Even as the congressional support for renewal of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund builds, cutbacks in the existing program are hitting municipal workers and their families particularly hard, according to two attorneys with extensive World Trade Center-related practices.
The 9/11 VCF was established in 2011 by Congress to provide financial support to up to 90,000 first-responders and more than 400,000 lower Manhattan survivors who were at risk of being sickened as a result of their exposure to WTC-linked toxins.
Overrun by Claims
Last year, the fund reported a major spike in claims from both the first responder and survivor groups. It has 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 re-authorized it.
From 2011 through 2016, the agency received more than 19,000 claims. In the time since, it has gotten 28,000 more, a number that continues to grow.
As a consequence, in February, as required by the fund’s enabling legislation, the fund’s director announced it would have to cut awards by 50 to 70 percent, depending on when the claims were submitted. The program will end in December of next year, unless Congress acts.
Matt McCauley, a lawyer as well as former member of the NYPD who was a 9/11 responder, said in a phone interview that the VCF’s need to cut payouts had been devastating for his clients who were already dealing with the loss of loved ones from their 9/11-related illnesses.
‘Widows Getting Nothing’
“We have widows who are getting nothing, and it is no fault of the VCF itself,” he said. “The VCF is administering the fund in the manner in which they have to, so it is not a knock on them. It is a knock on the administration that it hasn’t fully funded the VCF.”
He continued, “I have had three widows [two NYPD, one FBI] in the last month receive letters from the VCF saying that as a result of the funding cuts, they will not be receiving any money at this time.”
Under the 9/11 VCF renewal legislation that’s pending in Congress, claimants whose awards have been cut would be made whole.
Michael Barasch, whose firm represents 15,000 9/11 first-responders and survivors, said in a phone interview that on top of the significant cuts to all awards, his civil-servant clients were also feeling the impact of the VCF’s deducting the full value of disability pensions from any monetary awards for their economic loss.
Offset by Disability Pensions
“The Special Master is still using 100 percent of all disability pensions as an offset, so we are seeing dozens of responders, mostly firefighters, police officers, sanitation workers, with disability pensions [who] are ending up with zero,” he said. “We had 20 economic-loss awards last week and 19 of them were for zero.”
Mr. Barasch continued, “Last week I received an award on behalf of a New York City Firefighter. It should have been $550,000. He ended up with $14,000. We also got an award for a Sanitation Worker. It should have been $1.5 million. Instead, because he was forced to retire at age 34, it was zero.”
“But this is an example of how horrendous, how deep these cuts are being felt in the 9/11 community, especially among municipal workers,” he said.
On June 11, the bill to renew the 9/11 VCF program through 2090 was voted out of the House of Representatives Judiciary Committee. It is soon expected to come to a vote on the House floor, where it enjoys widespread support.
At that hearing, the testimony calling for VCF renewal from former late-night comedian Jon Stewart and NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez, 53, who was terminally ill with a 9/11-related cancer, caused a sensation.
Got McConnell Pledge
On June 24, a delegation of 9/11 WTC advocates met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and got a commitment from him to bring the House version of the bill to a vote in the Senate, where advocates say they have crossed the 70-vote threshold in terms of sponsors.
At that meeting, Mr. McConnell was presented with Detective Alvarez’s detective badge by 9/11 WTC advocate John Feal.
Several days later, Mr. Alvarez died.
At an unrelated press conference July 2, Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill hailed Mr. Alvarez, who served in the Bomb Squad, for his selfless public service and advocacy for WTC first-responders until the end of his life.
Didn’t Ask for Much
“And all he wanted in return was that his government recognize their efforts and they be taken care of medically when they fall ill” with WTC-related diseases, he said.
Mr. O’Neill told reporters that in addition to the 23 members of the NYPD who died on the day of the attack, close to 500 officers are currently battling a myriad of WTC ailments.
Two hundred twenty have died as a result of their WTC exposure.
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