Gillibrand renews effort to extend 9/11 victims fund
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Members of New York’s Congressional delegation, led by 2020 presidential hopeful Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, began scrambling Monday to prevent funding for a program aiding 9/11 first responders and survivors from running out.
Last week, the Justice Department announced money in the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund is running out and cuts could be made to keep the program afloat.
Former New York City firefighter LeRoy McGinnis remembers the Sept. 11th attacks vividly.
“The devastation of the buildings, the dust was everywhere,” said McGinnis, now the vice president of the firefighter’s union IAFF Local 94. “The smells, the noise… it was incredible.”
But that dust and debris he’s talking about also stemmed from the weeks-long recovery efforts. The effects have followed him and thousands of first responders now for years. They rely fund, which acts as a benevolent fund to help first responders and victims.
“If a member is in the hospital or is seeking treatment, there (are) travel costs or there might be overnight hotel stays,” he said of the expenses.
Approximately 45,000 first responders and survivors live with 9/11-related medical conditions, Gillibrand said. More than 10,000 of those victims are now battling rare, 9/11-related cancers, and that number is growing, which means more people are drawing on the fund.
According to the World Trade Center Health Program, the health care component of the original 2011 law that created the Fund, more than 74,000 first responders have enrolled in the WTC Health Program as of Dec. 2018; nearly 19,000 victims have done the same.
But that $7.3 billion fund is running low on money, and massive cuts could be made to keep the program solvent through 2020, officials overseeing the fund announced last week. Right now, $5 billion of the funding has been spent ahead of next year’s deadline.
Comedian and longtime 9/11 victims activist Jon Stewart stood alongside Gillibrand during the announcement to formally fund the program through 2090. Joining them was her fellow New York Senator Chuck Schumer, co-sponsor Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) and a slew of House members.
“We must not force our 9/11 heroes to go through the same exhausting process again,” Gillibrand said.
“This is a moral obligation,” Schumer added.”
The proposal would maintain the 2015 provision that extends the fund through 2090. However, the political fight is likely to come around to funding once again because, this time, there is no cap on how much money the victims would receive.
To paint the picture of what’s needed, Stewart offered a comedic call-to-action to Congress.
“This program already exists,” Stewart reminded the packed conference room and large group of television cameras. “It’s like a Starbucks gift card, we’re just looking to get a little more money on it.”