- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Congress must extend the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which is running out of money and has had to slash payouts to first responders and others who are ailing because of the 2001 terrorist attacks, a Justice Department official told lawmakers Tuesday.

A record number of people are expected to apply for help this year from the fund, shattering last year’s pace, said Rupa Bhattacharyya, the Justice Department official in charge of the fund.

“The nearly 3,000 lives lost on Sept. 11 may soon be overtaken by the number of lives lost in the years afterwards to the illnesses that stemmed from exposure to toxins at the three sites,” Ms. Bhattacharyya told a House Judiciary subcommittee.

Congress created the fund in 2010, but it is only funded through the end of 2020. The fund provides financial support for thousands of first responders and residents who live near the attack sites in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania who have 9/11-related illnesses.

The fund was supplied with $7.3 billion and expected to last through 2020. But as claims climbed, the fund‘s coffers have dwindled to nearly $2 billion.

To compensate for the shortfall resulting from increased claims, the VCF has cut payments by as much as 70%.

Jon Stewart, the former host of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” and a 9/11 victim advocate, ripped into lawmakers, calling them shameful.

“Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of. This hearing should be flipped, these men and women should be up on that stage, and Congress should be down here answering their questions,” Mr. Stewart said.

He also scolded lawmakers for their absences. Roughly half of the 14-member subcommittee was present.

“Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one. Shameful! It’s an embarrassment to the country and it’s a stain on this institution. And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber,” he said.

In its first five years, the Victim Compensation Fund issued just over 9,000 awards. Since then, it has responded to roughly 8,000 claims annually, Ms. Bhattacharyyaa said. That is because some 9/11-related cancers and other diseases can remain dormant for years, even decades. Roughly 21,000 claimants are still awaiting a decision.

Anesta Maria St. Rose Henry, the widow of a man who washed the dust off trucks transporting debris from the World Trade Center, clutched a picture of her husband while she sobbed through her testimony.

Her husband died of a rare brain cancer at 52. She filed the claim last year after his death, thus receiving 70% less than those who had already stepped forward.

“If he died two years ago, everything would be OK. I feel horrible for those who will die two years from now because their family will get nothing,” she said.

A measure to make the fund permanent has bipartisan support among lawmakers. Democrats and Republicans have co-sponsored the legislation.

“By enacting this legislation we will not have to force 9/11 responders and survivors to come begging to Congress every five years to step up and do the right thing,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, Tennessee Democrat.

“What is clear is our collective duty to see that our first responders are treated fairly in accordance to what they have already given to a grateful nation,” said Rep. Doug Collins, Georgia, the committee’s top Republican.

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