The Victim Compensation Fund for first responders and other people sickened as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks has been overwhelmed by claims and is quickly running out.
There were 43,100 claims by the end of 2018, more than 10,000 of which were filed in the last year.
But with $7.375 billion appropriated to the fund, nearly $5 billion already paid, and nearly 12,000 claims still under review, the special master who runs the fund has determined that starting next week, payouts must be slashed by 70 percent for claims filed after Feb. 1. What’s more, anyone who gets sick after Dec. 18, 2020, would not be able to file a claim with the fund at all.
So, many surviving victims of the 2001 attacks will face yet another tragedy: Their medical bills and other claims will go mostly unpaid. That should horrify every member of Congress, regardless of party.
Victims from across the country
Among those affected are the first responders who ran into the terror, those who worked on the pile, and those who lived or worked in the area and were diagnosed with a disease related to 9/11. The victims come from every state and nearly every congressional district. This is a national crisis. Like veterans’ benefits, this is our collective obligation, one that must supersede politics and party.
Several U.S. senators and representatives plan to reintroduce the Never Forget the Heroes Act next week to fully fund the Victim Compensation Fund and extend payments to 2090, if needed. That essentially would make it permanent. The bill is not expected to set a maximum funding amount, leaving the appropriation open-ended. And it would allow victims who get sick years from now to file claims, as some cancers and other diseases caused by 9/11 toxins aren’t detected for years or decades.
The fund has been run well, without abuse accusations or other problems. It’s overseen by a special master appointed by the attorney general. But despite that history, the funding of 9/11 victim compensation has been a difficult, disturbing battle, forcing ill first responders to travel to Washington to beg members of Congress for help.
Bipartisan support needed in Congress
That must stop. New York legislators must come together with a massive push to keep the Victim Compensation Fund solvent — and time is of the essence. Now that Democrats control the House of Representatives, the legislation’s passage should be easier. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has supported the fund, and a bipartisan group of representatives — including Peter King, Lee Zeldin, Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler and Max Rose — has pledged to reach out to new members. That’s critically important. The Senate, too, has bipartisan support, with Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer, both New York Democrats, and Cory Gardner, a Colorado Republican, behind the effort. They, too, will need to get their colleagues to join them.
Our federal government is paralyzed by a deep, ugly divide. On this issue, there should be an uplifting unity.