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9/11 survivor fund crosses key support threshold in the Senate

Roll Call logo Roll Call 6/25/2019 Katherine Tully-McManus
Cory Gardner, Jon Stewart, Kirsten Gillibrand posing for the camera: Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., says the 9/11 first responders and survivors fund reauthorization has 60 co-sponsors. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo) © Provided by CQ Roll Call, Inc. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., says the 9/11 first responders and survivors fund reauthorization has 60 co-sponsors. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Legislation to help victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks has crossed a threshold of support that is key to move ahead in the Senate, according to New York Democrat Kirsten Gillibrand.

A bipartisan group of 60 senators signed on to co-sponsor a reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which would make the fund permanent. Sixty votes are needed in the Senate to invoke cloture, or end debate on a bill. Without 60 votes, a bill can’t move forward to final passage. 

[After rebuke from Jon Stewart, panel approves 9/11 victim bill]

“We have the votes for this bill to pass as soon as it comes to the floor. I urge Senator McConnell to not stand in the way and commit to a standalone, up-or-down vote on this legislation as soon as it passes the House,” Gillibrand said in a statement Tuesday.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is expected to meet with first responders and their families to discuss health care needs the fund addresses. On the House side, Majority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday his chamber would take up the bill before the August recess.

Congress created the fund 11 days after the attacks to help victims, while also shielding from liability the airlines whose planes were flown into the towers, the Pentagon and a field in southern Pennsylvania. The fund pays out different amounts based on a victim’s family size and expected lifetime earnings had he or she not died or been rendered unable to work.

It operated for three years, then went dormant until 2011 when an outcry from victims prompted Congress to reopen it. The fund was reauthorized again in 2015.

The number of victims requesting compensation has exploded in recent years as more first responders have gotten sick, believing their ailments are linked to toxins created when the World Trade Center towers fell and from the cleanup at the Pentagon.

[Jon Stewart: advocates for 9/11 first responders are tired of visiting Congress]

The fund received a record number of requests in 2018 and is on pace to eclipse that record this year. More than $5 billion of the $7.38 billion reserve has already been depleted. Fund officials began slashing compensation by as much as 70 percent in February in anticipation of a shortfall.

“Our 9/11 first responders are sick, they are dying, and they have already had to spend too much of their precious time traveling to Washington and fighting to convince members of Congress that making the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund permanent is the right thing to do,” said Gillibrand. “We owe this to our heroes, and we should not force them to wait until the last minute.”

In recent weeks, comedian Jon Stewart gave emotional testimony to a House committee urging reauthorization of the program and used his fame and platform to pressure lawmakers to move quickly. 

Emily Kopp and David Lerman contributed to this report. 

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