Connecticut

Senate Considers Expanding Bill to Support 9/11 First Responders

On Friday, the House voted and passed a new version of the “Never Forget the Heroes Act," which provides compensation for first responders who suffered physical harm, or were killed after responding to Ground Zero.

A public outcry demanding support for 9/11 survivors is growing just months before federal funds run out.

Several first responders and US Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut) gathered to ask lawmakers for a swift passing of the bill.

On Friday, the House voted and passed a new version of the “Never Forget the Heroes Act.”

The fund provides compensation for first responders who suffered physical harm, or were killed after responding to Ground Zero.

“This kind of basic justice is the least, the very least, what we can do for these heroes," Blumenthal said. "The consequence, 18 years later is that many of them are sick."

Exposure to hazardous conditions and deadly chemicals are the primary reason why there’s an uptick in survivors developing cancer and other respiratory diseases.

John Dye is the father of Detective Michael Dye who responded to ground zero on September 11 and is now battling brain cancer.

"It's a sad situation that some of the people are not being in total agreement with (the legislation),” said Dye. “You never understand anything like this until it actually affects you."

The compensation fund was started in 2001 to help cover medical care for first responders who developed cancer and other respiratory diseases. The need for funding is immediate and has a lofty price tag.

"The congressional budget office has estimated that the total is about $10.2 billion,” Blumenthal explained.

The bill would extend a victims compensation fund created after the 2001 terrorist attacks through 2092, essentially making it permanent. The $7.4 billion fund is rapidly being depleted, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent. The bill would require that victims whose compensation payments were reduced because of the fund's declining balance be made whole.

Blumenthal says the price should not be the primary focus but rather the families who are still experiencing emotional and physical trauma.

“We ought to be ashamed and embarrassed that we're even talking about the amounts of money that's involved,” Blumenthal said. “The national debt is many, many multiples of the amount of money that we are considering here."

The bill received a tremendous amount of bi-partisan support in the house, passing with 402 yays and 12 nays.

Lawmakers from both parties hailed the House vote, which comes a month after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized Congress for failing to act. Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, told lawmakers at an emotional hearing that they were showing "disrespect" to first responders now suffering from respiratory ailments and other illnesses as a result of their recovery work at the former World Trade Center site in New York City.

The timeline for the vote is still in the air. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) only mentioned a vote in the near future.

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