A bid to extend benefits from a federal compensation fund for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks has cleared a major hurdle.
Members of the House overwhelmingly voted on Friday to approve legislation extending authorization and funding for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. The extension is being sought by 9/11 first responders and their family members to ensure that the fund never runs out of money.
The House approval follows a visit earlier this year to a Congressional committee by dozens of 9/11 first responders and one of their high-profile supporters, former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, who criticized members of Congress for failing to extend benefits for those still dealing with health issues related to their work at Ground Zero in the wake of the attack.
The “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act” is named after 9/11 responders who lost their lives as a result of 9/11-related illnesses.
The Victim Compensation Fund was established shortly after the attack on 9/11 and has been updated and reauthorized twice since, with the current version set to expire in 2020. The Fund’s Special Master has indicated that due to dwindling resources payments on existing claims will be cut by as much as 70%. The bill approved by the House provides full funding and extends the fund’s life, authorizing “such sums as may be necessary” each year through FY2092. It will now move to the Senate for consideration.
U.S. Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Niagara Falls and Lockport, who was a co-sponsor of the bill, spoke on the floor of the House in support of the legislation.
Higgins recently joined the Western New York Council on Occupational Safety and Health for a Workers’ Memorial Day rally supporting permanent authorization of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Nearly 50 Western New York residents, who responded following the attack, were in attendance.
"The pain and consequences of this attack are as real today as they were 18 years ago," Higgins said during his speech on the House floor. "We must act urgently to make the 9/11 victim compensation fund permanent. These men, women and families were there for our country in our time of need and now we must be there for them in their time of need."