Det. Lou Alvarez and Firefighter Ray Pfeifer added to the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund bill name By Michael McAuliff
James Zadroga, the NYPD detective who gave his name to the original 9/11 bill after dying from exposure to Ground Zero, is getting some partners.
The names of late Det. Lou Alvarez and Firefighter Ray Pfeifer are being added to the new bill to restore the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, lawmakers are announcing Monday.
Both men, each battling stage-four cancer linked to their time at the trade center, gave precious remaining days of their lives in the push to extend the life of 9/11 legislation.
Alvarez died late last month, just weeks after testifying to Congress to renew the compensation fund, which expires in 2020 and has already slashed payments to victims and their families.
Obviously frail and exhausted, Alvarez's words to lawmakers brought home the reality that the terrorist attacks of nearly 18 years ago are still claiming victims.
Pfeifer did the same during lobbying trips to renew the legislation in 2015, riding in a wheelchair donated by the widow of another 9/11 responder. He was especially effective winning over Republican lawmakers, playing the good cop to comedian Jon Stewart's bad cop and soothing senators Stewart may have rubbed the wrong way. Pfeifer finally succumbed to his cancer in 2017.
Both men left indelible marks.
"They both knew they are dying, but they had this sense of duty to everyone else who was sick," said Rob Serra, another 9/11 firefighter who was forced to retire early and is lobbying Congress now.
Serra rides in the last wheelchair that Pfeifer used for his final trips to Washington in 2015.
"They both had this quality where they were able to accept what was happening to them, but still keep fighting, which kind of embodies the whole spirit of 9/11 and the 9/11 community," Serra said. "We kind of knew it was a loosing battle when we were down there, and we kept fighting."
The bill that Pfeifer fought for made the treatment program for responders and survivors permanent until 2090, but Congress was only willing to grant the compensation program five years. Its $7.4 billion was supposed to last until 2020, but in February all but $2 billion of that was gone, forcing dramatic cuts.
It added new urgency to renew the legislation before too many responders and their families' payments were slashed. Hundreds of steeply reduced awards have already gone out, and some families have seen expected grants cut to zero.
The original 9/11 bill was named after Zadroga because he was the first responder whose post-Sept. 11 death was linked to the attacks, even as officials were still denying any connection. But the toxins and glass fragments found in his lungs after he died in 2006 vividly dramatized the need for new legislation. That bill didn't pass until 2010. It was also capped at five years, forcing responders like Pfeifer and Alvarez to make their painful pilgrimages to the Capitol.
“I don’t know how they did it, because to go through all those treatments and be as sick as they were — because I know how I feel when I go down there, it’s the last place that I want to be -- I can only imagine how they feel,” Serra said.
The new bill's lead sponsors wanted to enshrine their names alongside Zadroga's, adding powerful symbolic partners in the current fight to pass permanent compensation, through 2090.
“Heroes like James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez exemplify the best of us. Naming this bill after them is just a small way to honor their service and that of the whole 9/11 community, knowing they all deserve so much more,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), the bill's original sponsor.
“Lou Alvarez, Ray Pfeifer and James Zadroga personified America’s spirit and courage in responding to the evil of 9/11,” said Rep. Pete King (R-N.Y.), the lead Republican sponsor.
Unlike previous attempts to enact 9/11 bills, the current legislation has attracted widespread bipartisan support from a Congress that people like Alvarez and Pfeifer seem to have finally awoken to the need of thousands of people still coping or dying from 9/11.
“After all they have done for us, our nation cannot and will not turn its back on them," said Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), an early co-sponsor of the bill in the Senate with New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.
House leaders have promised to pass the bill on their side of the Capitol this month. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has promised he will advance a version of the bill before Congress takes August off, but has not specified how he intends to proceed.
Gillibrand said it simply needs to get done.
"This all comes down to political will and whether Congress is truly willing to ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11,” she said.
The new name of the bill will be the "Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.”
"Renaming the legislation in honor of these three selfless people, who made the ultimate sacrifice, is entirely appropriate. But the only real way to honor their sacrifice is to pass the House bill in the Senate to avoid any more delay in providing urgent funds and relief to our nation’s heroes and their families,” Sen. Chuck Schumer said.