VCF renewal

ON TO THE SENATE: After winning passage in her chamber of the 9/11 VCF's renewal, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi recognized World Trade Center responders for their "courage and sacrifice." She was joined by former FDNY Firefighter Robert Serra (seated), Congressman Max Rose (left) and by FDNY Battalion Chief James Lemonda (just to the right of the podium), president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association. 

By a lopsided vote of 402 to 12, the U.S. House of Representatives on Friday passed a bill renewing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.

In a rare show of bipartisanship, 176 Republicans joined with 226 Democrats to replenish the program, which provides financial compensation to first-responders and others who have contracted 9/11-related illnesses.

The measure now heads to the Senate, where it has more than 70 sponsors, according to the bill’s boosters. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has pledged to take up the measure before the August summer recess.

Price Tag

The extension is projected to cost $10.2 billion over the next 10 years, according to Congressional Budget Office. The House bill extends the program until 2090.

“This is what the American people are hungering for—Democrats and Republicans working together to solve real problems in real peoples’ lives,” Rep. Thomas Suozzi, a Long Island Democrat, said on the House floor before the vote. “This Victim Compensation Fund is so important to so many people [who face] real suffering” after they “dedicated their lives to try and serve other people, and are now paying the consequences for us.”

The bill has been renamed the “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.”

The original law was named for NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who was 34 when he died in 2006 from WTC-linked occupational exposure after working close to 500 hours on the debris pile.

Firefighter Raymond Pfeifer, who with the FDNY from 1987 until 2014, was one of the lead advocates for the passage of the original legislation and died in 2017 at age 59 from WTC-related cancer.

Alvarez Cited

NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez, whose June 11 Congressional testimony pleading for the VCF’s renewal went viral, died June 29 from colorectal cancer linked to his three months at the WTC site. He was 53 years old.

Mr. Alvarez’s name was invoked by Rep. Doug Collins, a Georgia Republican, who asked his GOP colleagues to join him in supporting the measure so that the Senate would hear the collective voice of the House “loud and clear.”

“We talk about it in terms of bills and line numbers,” he said. “But these are actual lives, and I think that is something that struck me, and I am glad [the reauthorization] has such bipartisan support. These folks should never be forgotten. They should be etched in our memories.”

Without Congressional action, the 9/11 VCF, which has been a financial lifeline for thousands, is scheduled to close its doors by December 2020.

The fund’s administrators reported a major spike in claims last year from both first-responder and survivor groups. The fund has so far committed more than $5 billion of its original $7.3 billion appropriation but now has more new claims than it settled in the five years since Congress reauthorized it in December 2015.

Claims Skyrocket

From 2011 through 2016, the agency had received more than 19,000 claims. Since then, it has since received an additional 28,000 and counting.

The VCF’s administrators in February announced they would have to cut awards between 50 to 70 percent, depending on when claims were submitted. The legislation that passed the House Friday requires claimants whose awards were reduced during this period to be made whole once the measure is enacted.

The WTC Health Program has said there have been almost 12,000 WTC-related cancers among the first-responder community and those that lived, worked or attended school south of Houston Street on Sept. 11, 2001 through the cleanup that was officially completed at the end of May 2002.

Dr. Jacqueline Moline, director of the Northwell Health Queens World Trade Center Program, told a House panel last month that the WTC Health Program had seen an exponential increase in a myriad of cancers and that “soon the day will come when there are more people that died of WTC related diseases after 9-11 than perished that horrible day [2,973].”

Dr. Moline estimated that as many as 20,000 more cancers could develop as a consequence of exposures to the contaminants that were released by the collapse of the towers and the fires that burned for months at the site.

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