The nation pledged never to forget 9/11, but some memories seem to have gotten a bit hazy, especially when it comes to money.
This week, a House Judiciary subcommittee moved to continue funding health-care benefits for illnesses related to the collapse of the Twin Towers. Democratic support in the House for the Victim Compensation Fund is likely but there is no guarantee it will see a vote in Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s Senate.
First responders and those who worked on the pile paid no heed to the danger posed by the toxins contained in the smoke, ash and rubble. Nearly 10,000 people have suffered from related cancers since then, according to the World Trade Center Health Program. Almost 3,000 have died.
The need continues to grow as more claimants come forward. The long-term effects of exposure and other injuries are taking increased tolls on aging bodies.
Despite already distributing more than $7 billion, the Compensation Fund is running out of money to meet all the claims submitted. Victims began receiving smaller benefits in May. They could shrink further. This is not the first time.
Comedian Jon Stewart has become the face and voice for the nation’s debt owed to these men and women. Five years ago, he blasted representatives for dragging their feet about renewing the fund. This time, he was even more direct.
In testimony Tuesday, Stewart didn’t crack jokes, make snide remarks or heap snark on the assembled officials. Neither did he cover his remarks with polite niceties.
“Why do they have to keep coming back?” he asked, pointing to the people sitting behind him.
Stewart pointed out that the New York City Police and Fire departments responded within five seconds after the calls came in. Eighteen years later, Congress is still procrastinating, willing to provide funding only five years at a time.
Funding through fiscal 2090 has been languishing in Congress since October of last year.
“You cost them time, the one thing they are running out of,” Stewart said, his voice cracking.
Health benefits for those injured by the 9/11 attacks shouldn’t be funded in fits and starts, thinking maybe those eligible for help will die before the next funding round has to be paid for.
“Why isn’t this a simple unanimous consent vote?” Stewart asked.