On Friday, July 12, 2019, the House overwhelmingly approved legislation to reauthorize the compensation fund and extend it for the lifetime of first responders, their families and others who became sick at September 11, 2001, Ground Zero.
The bill cleared the House with a vote of 402-12 after three 9/11 first responders died from cancer-related illnesses linked to their heroic actions at Ground Zero: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez and would authorize $10.2 billion.
It will now be sent to the Senate, where the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has said he will try to bring it up but where the timing on the vote is not yet clear.
“The first responders who rushed into danger on September 11th, 2001 are the very definition of American heroes and patriots,” McConnell said Friday. “The Senate has never forgotten the Victim Compensation Fund and we aren’t about to start now. Nothing about our shared goal to provide for these heroes is remotely partisan. We will consider this important legislation soon.”
The legislation comes as the $7 billion 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund is being depleted and has cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent, according to FOX. The fund’s administrator said it doesn’t have enough money to pay out all current and projected claims.
“My brother wanted to see it done before he died,” said Luis Alvarez’s brother, Philip Alvarez, who drove his sick brother to Washington to plead with Congress just days before Luis died. “He didn’t get that opportunity. But my sister and I promised him that we would be here every step of the way until it got done.”
Philip and Aida Lugo said they were at the vote not only for their brother himself but for others who were not yet compensated.
Former NYPD detective Luis Alvarez, who died of cancer on June 29, was one of many responders who helped sort through the debris left from the attacks. He and Jon Stewart testified before a mostly empty House Judiciary Committee hearing room to make a plea to continue to fund the 9/11 Victims Compensation FundFund set up after the terrorist attacks.
“There have been 16 funerals this month. Lou Alvarez was not the only one to die this month from a 9/11-related illness,” Philip said in an emotional tribute to his brother before the vote. “… We need this done.”
The legislation “doesn’t remove their hardship,” Stewart told The Post. “They are still sick. They are still dying. But it removes one layer of burden that should have never been there in the first place.”
And once the legislation comes into law, it won’t be a moment of celebration for the families who have spent years traveling to Congress begging for help — it will be one of relief, Stewart said.
“Let them exhale,” he said.