Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Bill Approved by Judiciary Panel

  • Bill would extend authorization for the fund through fiscal 2090
  • Compensation cut due to insufficient funds would be restored

Victims and first responders of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks could continue receiving compensation through fiscal year 2090 under a bill approved Wednesday by the House Judiciary Committee.

The legislation (H.R. 1327), approved by voice vote, would extend the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and allow people to file claims through October 2089. The bill would also require that anyone whose claim was reduced because of insufficient funding be paid for the full amount.

The bill, which was sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and has more than 300 cosponsors from both parties, now moves to the full House.

Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said the federal government was both inactive in not providing proper cleanup and deceptive in assuring people the air was safe to breathe when it wasn’t. Now more than 95,000 responders and survivors are sick from it, and every person who has become sick should be properly compensated, he said.

“I refuse to accept that the lives of some responders and survivors are worth more than others,” Nadler said. “It is time for us to give responders and survivors peace of mind once in for all.”

Survivors Testify

The bill generated controversy Tuesday when advocate Jon Stewart, former host of the Daily Show, testified before a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing, criticizing the number of lawmakers present while first responders were telling their stories.

“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one,” Stewart said. “It’s an embarrassment to the country, and it is a stain on this institution, and you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here.”

Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) pointed out that the event was a subcommittee event in a full committee room, according to NPR.

Zach Gibson/Getty Images
Former Daily Show host Jon Stewart listens as Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) testifies about legislation for Sept. 11 first responders.

James Lemonda, one of many firefighters who responded on Sept. 11, was on hand Wednesday to urge approval of the bill.

“Our greatest fear has come to fruition,” he told reporters before the markup. Lemonda has watched other first responders develop a variety of medical issues, including cancers, in the years since the attacks. Now president of the FDNY Uniformed Fire Officers Association, Lemonda and around 50 association members took a bus to Washington, D.C., to attend yesterday’s hearing.

Lemonda, who now experiences breathing difficulties, remembers Sept. 11 vividly, as only a first responder could. Off duty that day, he had just dropped his daughters off at school when he got the news. He went to get his gear and headed to the World Trade Center to search for victims.

“It was surreal in many ways because you really couldn’t recognize anything, such as a desk, everything was just pulverized,” he said.

He spent three or four days in the rubble, breathing in the air.

Bipartisan, Bicameral Support

Ranking member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) said the effects of that day will reverberate forever. Congress must address the needs of first responders and the “unintended and not asked for” sacrifices that they’ve made, he said.

Lemonda has hope. “We certainly have Congress’s attention on this issue,” he said.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who sponsored the Senate version of the bill (S. 546), welcomed the House committee’s vote in a statement. She said after the House acts, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “should put it on the floor for an up or down vote without any delay.”

The Senate Judiciary Committee hasn’t acted on that chamber’s version, which is cosponsored by eight Republicans.

To contact the reporter on this story: Elizabeth Elkin in Washington at eelkin@bgov.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jodie Morris at jmorris@bgov.com; Loren Duggan at lduggan@bgov.com