Congress must fully fund program for 9/11 victims

The Sept. 11, 2001, terror- ist attacks on America’s mainland claimed 2,996 lives, including those of the 19 hijackers of the four commercial jetliners used as weapons of mass destruction. In addition, 6,000 people were injured.

Two airplanes were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City, one into Pentagon in Washington, D.C., and one crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pa.

But 171/2 years later, the story of the first act of foreign aggression on U.S. soil since Pearl Harbor is still being written. And it remains a story of pain, suffering and anxiety about the future.

That’s because nearly 40,000 people with illnesses potentially related to their being at the sites of the attacks applied for financial assistance from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

The fund was created by an act of Congress shortly after the attacks to compensate the families of those who perished and other victims so they would not have to file lawsuits against the airline companies.

Unfortunately, there isn’t enough money in the fund to fully compensate the 19,000 or so applicants who have not been paid.

Of the $7.3 billion in the fund, nearly $5 billion in benefits have been awarded.

Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya announced recently that because the fund is running out of money, future payments would have to be cut by 50 to 70 percent.

Bhattacharyya said she was “painfully aware of the inequity of the situation” but stressed that approving some money for every valid claim would be preferable to sending legitimate claimants away empty handed.

“I could not abide a plan that would at the end of the day leave some claimants uncompensated,” the special master said.

Full compensation

While we commend the overseer for striving to be fair, there is absolutely no justification for not fully compensating the legitimate claimants, including 9/11 first responders, survivors and families of those who died.

Congress must not hesitate to approve a plan unveiled Monday on Capitol Hill to permanently authorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund at full level.

It’s also important for President Donald J. Trump, the billionaire real-estate developer from New York City who had a front-row seat to the death and destruction at the World Trade Center, to give his unequivocal blessing to the funding proposal.

Republican Trump, whose demand for $5.7 billion for a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border has become a point of contention with Democrats and some Republicans in Congress, has chance to put the needs of the American people ahead of partisan politics.

Thousands of people have become ill due to exposure to toxins and chemicals that were unleashed following the hijackers’ use of the airplanes as missiles.

During this week’s unveiling of the funding plan, Comedian Jon Stewart, a prominent advocate for first responders, explained that the “excellent” job by Trump’s Justice Department in administering the claims has caused the problem.

“The claims are going through faster and the awards are coming through,” Stewart told Fox News. “ … That’s why we’re in the problem that we’re in … the program works exactly like it’s supposed to. So now it’s Congress’ job to fund it properly and let these people live in peace.”

To be sure, the 9/11 responders, survivors and families deserve to live in peace.

But the prospect of more people dying from diseases and other medical conditions related to the attacks than were actually killed on that fateful day demands urgent action by Congress.

The bipartisan legislation is co-sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York; Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-New York, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020; Democratic Reps. Jerrold Nadler and Carolyn Maloney of New York; and, Republican Reps. Peter King of New York and Cory Gardner of Colorado.

It’s not clear why Congress did not authorize permanent funding for the VCF when it was enacted shortly after the 9/11 attacks, but the legislation introduced this week addresses that shortcoming.

The “Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund” will give Special Master Bhattacharyya all the money she needs to fully compensate the first responders and other victims of the acts of terror that changed America forever.

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