After over a decade of battling with the nation’s government, surviving first responders from the attack on 9/11 have been presented with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which, this time, is here to stay.
The fund originated in 2001 and was in place until 2004 to help the families of those who were sick, injured or killed due to the terrorist attacks on 9/11. As first responders continued to get sick after the fund was deactivated, however, it was re-established in 2011 because of the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act of 2010. The act was coined after James Zadroga, an NYPD officer who fell sick with respiratory disease after spending weeks around the attack site. Zadroga died in 2006.
According to the World Trade Center Health Program, another component of the Zadroga Act, more than 70,000 first responders who worked at ground zero have enrolled in the program. More than 32,000 of them have contracted diseases related to the attack, including diseases of the respiratory or digestive tracts, as well as cancer. Over 1,000 first responders have died of these illnesses since then. Experts predict that, at this rate, the total number of deaths will outnumber the people who died on 9/11.
In Feb. 2019, the budget for awards was slashed by 70 percent in an attempt to help with budget concerns. Thus far, five billion dollars have been paid to 21,000 people, and there are still tens of thousands of more claims to look at.
The fund has been permanently reauthorized due to a bill President Donald Trump signed earlier this year. The fund promises over ten billion dollars to cover the next ten years, and more money on top of that to last until 2090, which will virtually fund the survivors for the rest of their lives.
NYPD Detective Luis Alvarez was one of the first responders at the World Trade Center after the attack and spent months on the scene. In 2016, he began a battle with stage four cancer. Despite his struggles with illness and taking on 68 rounds of chemotherapy, Alvarez never stopped lobbying for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. He appeared before the Congress multiple times to defend his stance.
Although Luis Alvarez died before he saw the fund renewed, thousands of others are still around to reap its benefits, and many others are inspired by Alvarez’s determination. One of these people includes comedian Jon Stewart, who has lived in New York for most of his life.
Stewart, a large proponent for the fund, devoted an entire episode of The Daily Show to the issue in Dec. 2010 when Senate Republicans seemed as if they were going to shoot down the idea of the Zadroga Act. Stewart heavily criticized the Republicans in office and brought first responders from 9/11 onto the show to speak. Less than a week later, the Zadroga Act was passed.
In 2015, during the reauthorization of the fund, Stewart was once again a fierce advocate, criticizing those who reportedly failed to support the fund. He specifically targeted Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell, who later responded to the allegations by saying that he had never failed to support the fund.
On Jun. 11, Stewart once again went viral for putting McConnell on blast, urging him to reauthorize the bill sooner rather than later. The next day, the House Judiciary Committee passed the Never Forget the Heroes Act, which extended the fund through 2090. The House of Representatives passed the bill on Jul. 12, which left the decision to Senate Republicans. The bill was, as promised, voted on and reauthorized last month, despite protest from Senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee about budget concerns. The final vote came out to 97-2 in favor of the fund.