The Senate has finally approved a bill to ensure that a victim compensation fund never runs out of money in connection with the September 11 attacks.
Comedian Jon Stewart, who is a longtime supporter for 9/11 respondents, looked on from the Senate Gallery on Tuesday as the 97-2 was passed and he was spotted to cover first responders immediately after.
He and other supporters, including first responders, spoke standing ovations when they passed.
The bill will now be sent to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
The vote came after Democratic senators agreed to allow votes on amendments sponsored by two Republican senators who had blocked the bill widely circulated.
The Senate slightly rejected the changes proposed by GOP Sens. Mike Lee from Utah and Rand Paul from Kentucky. Lee and Paul voted against the final adoption of the law.
Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said 9/11 first responders and their families had had enough of “political games” that delayed the passage of the law for months.
Our 9/11 heroes deserve this program as written,” Gillibrand said. “Let our heroes go home, live in peace and finally exhale.
The bill would extend to 2092, a fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks that essentially makes it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly depleted, and administrators have recently cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the House-passed Bill would result in additional compensation payments of about $10.2 billion over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said the bill “guarantees once and for all that the heroes who rushed to the towers 18 years ago will no longer have to worry about compensation for their families when they are gone.
First responders no longer have to return to Congress to fight for the compensation they should always have received,” Schumer said.
They can go home, take care of their illnesses, their family members, their friends. That’s what they always wanted to do, just take care of themselves and their families.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was the subject of devastating attacks by comedian Jon Stewart and other activists, also welcomed the adoption of the law.
The legislation makes solemn commitments to firefighters, policemen and other first responders who approached the World Trade Center selflessly moments after the 2001 terrorist attacks began,” McConnell said.
Congress can never thank these men, women and families for their victims. But we can do our small part to try and make our heroes whole,” McConnell said on Senate soil. That’s why the Senate has never failed to take care of the (victim) fund before. We didn’t want to do that now.
The collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001 caused a cloud of thick dust to blow over Lower Manhattan and fires burned for weeks.
Thousands of construction workers, policemen, firefighters and others spent their time in soot, often without proper respiratory protection.
In the years that followed, many of them noticed a decline in their health, some with respiratory or digestive problems that occurred almost immediately, others with diseases that developed with age, including cancer.
More than 40,000 people applied for the Victim Compensation Fund on September 11, covering diseases that may be related to their presence at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded from the $7.4 billion fund, with approximately 21,000 claims pending.
Stewart, a long-term supporter of 9/11 Responder, had sharply criticized Congress for not acting. He told lawmakers at an emotional hearing last month that they showed “disrespect” to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their resumption of “work on the pile” of debris left by the 2001 attacks.
Stewart called the sparse participation in the June 11 hearing “an embarrassment for the country and a blemish for this institution”.
Later he targeted McConnell because he was slow to implement earlier versions of the legislation and used them as political peasants to do other things.
Gillibrand and other legislators gave Stewart credit for raising the profile of the issue that has lingered on Capitol Hill for years.
Lee said he had nothing against the law, but wanted to make sure the fund had adequate oversight to prevent fraud and abuse. Paul said he was worried about his effect on the deficit, and said any new spending should be offset by spending cuts elsewhere.