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Senate to vote on extending 9/11 victim compensation fund

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer in Washington

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer in Washington on Thursday. Credit: Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer

WASHINGTON — The Senate will vote Tuesday to permanently fund the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, in a long-awaited floor vote that first responders from New York say they’ll be watching with cautious optimism.

"It seems like there are no done deals when it comes to the federal government, so we're not going to celebrate just yet, but we're staying positive," said retired FDNY firefighter Michael O'Connell of Westbury, who developed an autoimmune disease after working at Ground Zero in the wake of the terrorist attacks. O'Connell was part of a group of first responders who met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell last month and who will be attending Tuesday's vote.

Last Thursday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) announced a vote on the bill would go forward after Republican and Democratic leaders worked out a deal after two GOP senators blocked efforts to vote on the bill last week over their concerns about the measure’s price tag.

The deal agreed to by Schumer and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) allows Republican Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky to offer amendments that address their concerns over the cost of operating the fund through 2092.

The Congressional Budget Office estimated that the fund will cost $10.18 billion for the first 10 years of its extension but could not determine the cost for the remaining years.

The  two amendments are expected to fail, Schumer said last week, noting the bipartisan support for the 9/11 bill that has been shepherded in the Senate by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).  Seventy-three lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have signed on as co-sponsors, making the measure filibuster proof, and all but ensuring its passage.

“It’s hard to see anything that will get in the way,” Schumer told reporters on Sunday at an unrelated news conference in midtown Manhattan.

The White House has not indicated whether President Donald Trump will sign the bill, but last month, when asked about the future of the bill, Trump told NBC’s "Meet the Press": “We’ll see what happens.”

The House passed a companion version of the bill earlier this month sponsored by Reps. Pete King (R-Seaford), Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan) and Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).

For years first responders from the tristate area have been fighting for a permanent extension of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which was established by Congress in 2001 shortly after the terrorist attacks to aid those who were injured or the heirs of those who were killed. Congress re-established the fund in 2011, and reauthorized funding for five years in 2015.

With funding set to run out by next year, first responders and advocates, including comedian Jon Stewart, have been pressing Congress to act on a permanent extension of the fund.

“So many people have all worked on this legislation, there have been so many faces, but at the end of the day we’re all one voice,” said Jake Lemonda, president of the FDNY’s Uniformed Fire Officers Association, who traveled to Washington, D.C., on Monday so he could be present for the vote.

Lemonda, a New Hyde Park resident, said he is “cautiously optimistic” the bill will pass. If the measure passes on Tuesday, he said it will “put thousands of first responders, thousands of people who were affected by the hazardous atmosphere at Ground Zero … it will put them at ease.”

“In that sense it will be a huge accomplishment,” Lemonda said.

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