Senate Passes Bill to Replenish 9/11 Economic Compensation Fund

Kerry Dooley Young

July 23, 2019

WASHINGTON — The Senate today approved a free flow of money for paying claims for lost wages and pain and suffering due to cancer and other illnesses linked to the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The Senate voted 97-2 to approve a bill to replenish the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which in February announced a budget shortfall. To address a looming funding gap, the Senate took up a bill approved July 12 by the House. The measure extends the authorization for the 9/11 Victim Compensation fund to 2092 and dictates providing "such sums as may be necessary" to pay claims.

The bill now goes to President Donald Trump for his signature.

Since 2011, the federal government already had provided $7.4 billion for the Victim Compensation Fund. But the fund has since approved $5.2 billion, putting it on track to run dry before a 2020 target date. Without a new injection of money, the fund, which is administered by the Department of Justice, said it would have to reduce payments by as much as 70%.

The budget crunch predicted for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund would not have affected a companion initiative, the World Trade Center (WTC) Health Program. This program, which is run by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), pays for medical monitoring and care of people who worked or lived near sites affected by the terrorist attacks.

About 75,000 first responders — firefighters, police officers, and others who worked at the sites of the attacks — have enrolled in the WTC Health Program. So have about 20,000 survivors — people who worked or lived near the sites, according to the CDC.

It is not yet clear how many people will develop health conditions for which they can seek assistance from the Victim Compensation Fund. It already has approved claims from 22,500 people, Rupa Bhattacharyya, the special master of the Victim Compensation Fund, told the House Judiciary Committee in June. With the aging of the population exposed to toxic debris from the 9/11 attacks, though, more people are expected to develop cancer and other serious illnesses and become eligible to make claims.

"There is no accurate count of how many people might have been exposed to toxins stemming from the attacks, and there is considerable uncertainty about the number of individuals who ultimately will fall ill due to the long latency periods that can elapse before manifestation of the cancers determined to be related to 9/11 exposure," Bhattacharyya said.

The lengthy extension and open-ended funding for economic claims will make it easier for people who were exposed to the toxic aftermath and later fall ill to get financial assistance, backers of the bill said.

"More will get sick. More will die. Some of them won't be diagnosed for years," Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), a champion for the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund bill, said on Tuesday. "That includes responders — and it includes the residents, teachers, and students who stayed downtown (in Manhattan) because the government told them the air was safe. They told them it was safe to breathe, even though it was not."

Before passing the bill, the Senate defeated amendments offered by Sen. Rand Paul, MD (R-KY), and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) to address the costs of the fund. Both amendments faced a 60-vote threshold.

The amendment from Paul failed 22-77. He sought to address the costs of extending the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund with cuts to other federal programs.

The amendment from Lee failed 32-66. He proposed providing $10.2 billion for the fund to spend from fiscal years 2019 through 2029, with another $10.0 billion to be made available from fiscal years 2030 through 2092.

Paul and Lee cast the dissenting votes on the bill.

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