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House panel votes to fully fund 9/11 victims compensation program

Sen. Schumer called for a Senate vote on the matter once the full House approves it this summer.

Retired NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez and former "Daily

Retired NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez and former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart at a House hearing Tuesday on the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. Photo Credit: EPA / Jim Lo Scalzo

WASHINGTON — Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer implored Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday to immediately bring the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund to the floor for a stand-alone vote once it passes the House this summer.

Schumer went to the Senate floor moments after the House Judiciary Committee, in a show of bipartisan support,  approved in a voice vote the legislation for fully funding and extending the fund for first responders and others ailing from 9/11-related illnesses.

“Once this bill passes the House, there will be only one person who stands between the brave first responders now suffering from cancer and illness and the money they need to save or extend their lives, and that one person is Leader McConnell,” Schumer said.

“I am imploring, pleading, even begging to Leader McConnell, to put the bill on the floor immediately after it passes the House,” Schumer said. “I am imploring, I am pleading, I am begging Leader McConnell to give us a commitment, today.”

McConnell, who in the past has not allowed a vote on a stand-alone bill for the initial legislation in 2010 or in the five-year extension in 2015 that created what Schumer described as a “painful” and “difficult” process, did not respond Wednesday.

McConnell’s spokesman, Doug Andres, referred to the majority leader’s comment Tuesday: “We've always dealt with that in the past in a compassionate way, and I assume we will again.”

The House committee approved the bill a day after it heard from an ailing former firefighter, a police detective, an FBI agent, a one-time Stuyvesant High School student, and a widow of a construction worker who died last month from a 9/11 illness — followed by a harsh scolding of Congress by former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart.

“I'm happy for the families and for the survivors. The next step is to get it through the Congress,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan), co-sponsor of the bill with Rep. Pete King (R-Seaford). 

Maloney predicted Wednesday the vote will pass easily in the House, where she said it has 312 co-sponsors, including 81 Republicans. She said she is pressing for a vote before the  Fourth of July.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) did not set a date, but promised a vote this summer. “Now that @HouseJudiciary has passed H.R. 1327 to #Renew911VCF, I expect to bring it to the Floor for a vote before the August district work period. First responders who ran into danger that day deserve certainty that they & their families will have the benefits they’ve earned,” he tweeted.

The House will not vote until after it gets the Congressional Budget Office cost estimate and determines a way to pay for it. Any estimate will have to project the number and cost of new cancer diagnoses and deaths over the next 70 years.

The Victim Compensation Fund is running out of money and expires on Oct. 1, 2020. In February, Rupa Bhattacharyya, special master of the fund, cut claims submitted on or before Feb. 1, 2019, by 50 percent and those filed after that date by 70 percent.

The bill would allow claims to be filed until October 2089, require VCF policies and procedures to be reassessed at least once every five years, pay back the full amount for those who received reduced awards, remove the cap on noneconomic damages in certain circumstances, and adjust the annual limit on economic loss compensation for inflation.

Schumer said in a phone interview that he believes President Donald Trump would sign the bill if and when both the House and Senate enact it. Trump has not said publicly what he thinks about the legislation or  whether he would sign it.

Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), a backer of the legislation, said, “I believe the President would sign the bill and could definitely be the difference maker if there is any Senate holdup. I’d strongly encourage him to do both.”

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), a key sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, joined Schumer by issuing a statement urging McConnell to “put it on the floor for an up-or-down vote without any delay” once the House passes it.

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