BY GABE HERMAN | Officials for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund said on Feb. 15 that it will cut payouts by as much as 70 percent for claims, due to a shortfall in funds and a rise in new claims.
Currently pending claims will see a 50 percent decrease in awards, and going forward, claims will see a 70 percent payout reduction.
To date, the fund, which started in 2011, has paid out $5 billion of its total $7.375 billion available, on more than 21,000 claims. Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya of the fund said there are nearly 20,000 claims and amendments currently pending, and thousands more expected to be filed before the fund’s scheduled end on Dec. 18 of next year.
Bhattacharyya said there was a dramatic jump in 2018 claims filed, especially in the last several months, after an October 2018 announcement that the money was dwindling. She also cited other factors for an uptick in claims, including higher rates of 9/11-related illnesses, an increasing number of deaths from exposure to the World Trade Center site, and outreach efforts to inform those who may have a right to receive compensation.
“I am painfully aware of the inequity of the situation,” Bhattacharyya said in the Feb. 15 announcement. “The stark reality of the data leaves me no choice. If there had been a different option available to me, I assure you I would have taken it.”
Michael Barasch, a 9/11 community advocate and attorney, has represented more than 11,000 first responders with claims at the fund.
“This dramatic reduction in awards for 9/11 first responders, survivors and families of those who have lost their battles with these horrific illnesses will have a devastating impact on countless families and requires immediate action by the federal government,” Barasch said.
He added that President Trump, Congress and the fund’s special master were not to blame for the shortfall.
“Instead, it was necessary because of an unanticipated explosion of cancers and deaths in the 9/11 community,” he said. “Many more are expected to get sick as a result of their exposure to Ground Zero toxins in the eight months after 9/11. The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund must be extended and fully funded so that everyone gets the justice that they deserve.”
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand said in a statement that she will reintroduce legislation, along with Republican Senator Cory Gardner of Colorado and others, that will address the issue.
“Our bill would fully fund the VCF and make it permanent, so that any 9/11 first responders who develop cancer in the coming years will have somewhere to turn when they need help,” Gillibrand said. “They were there for us. Congress must be there for them.”