New York lawmakers, first responders and 9/11 victim advocates gathered Monday at Ground Zero in Manhattan to urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to immediately pass legislation to fully fund the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.
The House of Representatives voted 402-12 on Friday to extend for 70 years the life of the fund, which was running out of money. The fund expires Oct. 1, 2020, and earlier this year the federal government announced it was slashing awards to victims.
The bill would extend the fund until 2090 and provide cash awards to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, including first responders and those injured after the attacks, plus downtown residents, workers and volunteers.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said during the news conference that "we should not forget the sacrifice of the people who rushed to the towers to keep America free."
Schumer urged McConnell to pass a "clean" bill, independent of legislation involving other issues, such as the debt ceiling.
"No games. Do not attach this bill to something else, where it might get messed up like it has gotten messed up in the past," Schumer warned.
According to Schumer's office, a vote has not been scheduled; McConnell's office did not comment.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), wearing a black-and-yellow firefighter jacket, said, "We as a nation have a moral obligation to take care of the people who took care of us, and those who take care of them."
In February, the fund's special master, Rupa Bhattacharyya, said claims filed on or before Feb. 1, 2019, would be cut by 50 percent, while those filed afterward would be reduced by 70 percent.
The legislation would fully compensate those whose awards were slashed and end a cap on non-monetary damages in certain cases.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) said victims "shouldn't have to come and beg in Congress [for] what a grateful nation morally owes them."
John Feal, founder of FealGood Foundation, a Nesconset group that advocates for the first responders, said, "We're not here to spike a football today. In fact, when we get the bill passed, we won't spike a football. When we get a bill passed, people are still going to die."
McConnell said in a statement Friday, “The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001, are the very definition of American heroes and patriots. The Senate has never forgotten the Victim Compensation Fund and we aren’t about to start now. Nothing about our shared goal to provide for these heroes is remotely partisan. We will consider this important legislation soon."