WASHINGTON — Lawmakers from New York and elsewhere urged the immediate passage of legislation to permanently and fully fund the 9/11 victim compensation program in a series of speeches in the House at the end of the day Thursday.
An increasing number of 9/11 first responders and survivors have filed claims with the Victims Compensation Fund, and it is running out of money, leading to the reality that compensation awards might have to be cut by half or more.
“This is unacceptable,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), a main sponsor of the bill. “The problem is bigger than expected. The number of cancer claims has jumped. Cancer claims now account for one third of the claims, up from one fifth just a few years ago."
Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) stressed the bipartisan support for the bill, and lawmakers from each party rose to speak in favor of the legislation.
“Regardless of party affiliation, regardless of what district or state you come from, it is imperative that this legislation is passed and sent to the president immediately to become law, so that we can ensure these victims receive the compensation they deserve,” Zeldin said.
Unless Congress approves permanent and full funding for the compensation fund, future awards to victims of the deadly Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that affected the health of thousands will be sharply reduced as the program’s funding dwindles.
The fund has paid out $5 billion on about 21,000 claims and has been extended through Dec. 18, 2020, but it has just $2.375 billion left of appropriated funds, according to Rupa Bhattacharyya, the fund’s special master.
The bipartisan group of House members took to the House floor to seek support for the bill, called the Never Forget the Heroes Act. The bill has 142 co-sponsors in the House and 23 co-sponsors in the Senate, according to a congressional website.
Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), a sponsor of the bill, said in an interview that the legislation has not faced any organized opposition so far and he expects it to pass in the next few months.
Another main sponsor, Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, called passing the legislation a "moral obligation."