Opinion - Jon Stewart: What 9/11 heroes need from Congress. Make the Victim Compensation Fund permanent, and fund it

Feb 25, 2019
In The News

Today I am in our nation’s capital. I don’t particularly enjoy coming down here. It is a town that has four 8th Sts., and none of them intersect.

I am walking the halls of Congress with injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors, looking to see if “Remembering 9/11” is more than a cheap obligatory slogan senators and representatives tweet out.

The fact that we continue to need to do this is beyond my comprehension.

First responders, firefighters, police, construction workers, Red Cross volunteers, transit workers, FBI agents and school teachers are going door to door, down marble-lined hallways, because 17 years after the attacks on 9/11, injured and ill responders, survivors and their families are still dealing with the impact of the toxins at Ground Zero.

They are in every state and 434 out of 435 Congressional Districts.

Last week, the Justice Department announced that because of a lack of funding, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) will need to make severe cuts of between 50% and 70% on pending compensation awards for injuries caused by the toxins. This will impact thousands of 9/11 responders, survivors and their families who have been waiting years for help.

This is madness.

The Justice Department, which has supervised the VCF over three administrations, has done a good job in fulfilling its obligations under the current law and current funding level.

The only ones who can fix this are in Congress.

I fully recognize that the words “fix this” and “Congress” may appear mutually exclusive. But Congress must fund the VCF so it can deal with the increase in claims and stop the fund from closing its doors next year when its authorization expires.

Congress must pass the bipartisan bill that’s titled Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. This legislation, being introduced today by Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer and Cory Gardner, and Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerry Nadler and Pete King, with support from members across the nation, fully funds the VCF so that these heroes never have to drag themselves down these hallways again.

It reverses the cuts in awards and keeps the fund open to deal with those that have yet to be impacted by the toxins at Ground Zero.

The numbers of those coming forward with illnesses and cancers related to the toxins at Ground Zero grows every single day.

In the World Trade Center Health Program, 45,000 people are suffering from at least one 9/11-related chronic health condition. More than 10,000 have been certified with a 9/11-related cancer, with more being diagnosed every day, and almost every other day another 9/11 responder or survivor dies from a 9/11-associated cancer.

And yet here we are….again.

Despite the way Washington generally operates, I believe that this legislation may be one of the few bipartisan bills that can pass Congress this session, or at least should.

I urge anyone reading this to contact their members of Congress, and make sure they are supporting this bill. The U.S. Capitol switchboard is 202-224-3121.

This May, with the support of Mike Bloomberg, Gov. Cuomo and the board members of the 9/11 museum, a new space will be dedicated on the memorial glade in downtown Manhattan to honor those who have become ill and those that have died from 9/11 related illnesses. The space will never bring closure to those who have lost so much and continue to suffer so deeply, but it will recognize the great courage and strength they gave so willingly and the price they continue to pay.

We ask so much of our Nation’s first responders and volunteers. Let us not repay their selflessness with apathy.

Stewart is former host of “The Daily Show.”