Even as relations between the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and President Trump continue to deteriorate, advocates for re-authorizing the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund report that they are making bipartisan progress on funding the program, which is set to expire without legislative action of Dec. 31, 2020.
Last year, Rupa Bhattacharyya, the Special Master for the 9/11 VCF, announced that as a consequence of a dramatic spike in the number of 9/11 wrongful death and World Trade Center related cancers claims, the $7.3 billion fund would have to greatly reduce the size of its payouts by between 50 to 75 percent depending on the nature of the claim.
According to three sources who were on Capitol Hill May 22, advocates have 293 co-sponsors in the House, including 70 Republicans.
Senate Support Lagging
In the GOP-controlled Senate progress is slower, the VCF boosters concede, with 36 Senators on board, including eight Republicans led by Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner.
“We are hoping this is one of the few things people can agree on,” said Ben Chevat, of Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, a non-profit supported by organized labor.
“Progress is being made and we are meeting with 15 Senate offices and 14 House of Representative offices just today,” John Feal, with the FealGood Foundation, a 9/11 advocacy nonprofit, said in a phone interview. “We will be at over 300 in the House by the end of this week.”
Attorney Michael Barasch made the rounds to the offices of several prominent Republican Senators including South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, Florida’s Marco Rubio, North Carolina’s Tom Scott. “We meet with their Counsels or Chiefs of Staffs and every one of them said they could not imagine why their boss would not support the bill,” he said in a phone interview.
Waiting on Price-Tag
He continued, “The Republicans are waiting to see the budget scoring on the VCF renewal from the Congressional Budget Office on what the final price-tag will be for the permanent extension which should be out in the next couple of weeks.”
The VCF was set up along with the WTC Health Program for the estimated 90,000 first-responders who served at the Trade Center site and were exposed to a deadly cocktail of airborne toxins during the response and recovery period that went on for several months after the attack.
Both programs are also available to the estimated 400,000 survivors who lived, worked or went to school in the lower-Manhattan contaminated zone where dozens of city public schools continued to operate even as the clean-up was completed.
The VCF has been a lifeline for thousands of first-responders and their families who can find themselves not only battling a sometimes terminal- diagnosis but are enmeshed in contentious litigation over their claims.
Under the pending VCF reauthorization bill, claimants who received the reduced payments would be ultimately made whole.
While 343 Fire Department members died on Sept. 11, 2001, the number of FDNY lives lost to the occupational exposure is approaching 200 and is growing rapidly, according to union officials.
‘More Than 1,000 Ailing’
Several months ago Battalion Chief James Lemonda, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association confirmed that in addition to those that have died from their occupational exposure since the attack “over 1,000 [Fire Department] members have documented cancers and lung ailments attributed to their world down at the Trade Center.”
Retired FDNY Emergency Medical Technician Gary Smiley serves as a liaison for members and retirees from District Council 37’s Local 2507 that are battling at least one WTC health condition. He estimates that between active-duty members and retired EMTs and Paramedics there are 600 people who have WTC-related health issues.
He said in a phone interview that the political turmoil in Washington D.C., was creating considerable anxiety for those members and retirees with a stake in the future of the VCF.
“In general, being a 9/11 first-responder is a nightmare on its own,” he said. “Now, add to that the stress from the additional anxiety over whether or not your VCF claim will be slashed to next to nothing because the government cannot find it in their hearts and minds to fund this critically important legislation.”
Toll Never Let Up
Part of the challenge the supporters for VCF renewal face is the misperception that the 9/11 catastrophic loss of life occurred just when the towers collapsed.
Mr. Feal, a construction worker who was injured during the WTC clean-up, maintains a memorial wall on Long Island for responders to commemorate those who have died from a WTC-related illness. His list that is approaching 2,100, includes responders have perished since 2008 from WTC-linked causes, including cancer, and suicide.
On May 30 the 9/11 Memorial Museum will open a 9/11 Memorial Glade at their lower Manhattan site. On its website, the non-profit described the project as a “pathway to honor the ongoing sacrifice of rescue, recovery and relief workers, and the survivors and members of the broader lower-Manhattan community who are sick or have died from exposure to toxins in the aftermath of 9/11.”
Mr. Chevat said the dedication of the glade comes at a pivotal time for the VCF reauthorization effort. “This will be a physical manifestation of what we all know in the form of a monument to those first-responders and survivors who have died since the attack, those that continue to struggle with that loss of life and those still having to deal with the major health
We depend on the support of readers like you to help keep our publication strong and independent. Join us.