The U.S. Senate voted to replenish a fund that provides lifelong medical help and other compensation for firefighters, police officers and other first responders affected by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, sending the long-stalled legislation to President Donald Trump.
The measure, which passed on a 97-2 vote, is designed to make the fund essentially permanent, extending the resources through at least fiscal 2092. The $4.6 billion Congress provided in 2017 proved insufficient, and dozens of first responders who suffered health effects from from working at “Ground Zero” in New York City came to Washington to lobby for the fund’s renewal.
“These men and women — many of them sick and some of them gravely so — won’t have to return to Congress any more to fight for the compensation they always should have been given,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.
The House passed the bill earlier this month, 402-12. It aids first responders whose health was affected by the attacks and later cleanup efforts in New York City and at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia.
More than 340 New York City firefighters who responded to the attacks died on Sept. 11, 2001. Since then, 200 more have died from illnesses contracted at the site of the attack, the city said.
The fund began cutting awards to beneficiaries earlier this year as the fund became depleted. Former Comedy Central “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart, a champion for the first responders, testified to a House committee in June about the need to bolster the fund, and he also publicly chastised Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell for not moving more quickly.
A group of New York City first responders met privately with McConnell in his Capitol Hill office a few weeks ago, telling reporters that the majority leader assured them that he will prioritize the fund and schedule a vote on the measure before an Congress’s August recess.
At a news conference after the Senate vote, Stewart and the first responders who led the lobbying effort heralded a final result that will leave victims and their families free of worries over future compensation.
“These families deserve better, and I hope today begins the process of healing without having to advocate,” Stewart said, flanked by more than a dozen first responders and New York lawmakers.
John Feal, one of the key advocates for the victims, said that “we’re leaving D.C. on our terms.”
The legislation had broad support in both chambers, but there was some resistance in the Senate from a couple of conservative Republicans. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky offered an amendment to offset the new funding with cuts elsewhere, while Senator Mike Lee of Utah sought a shorter extension of the fund. Both of their amendments were defeated just before the legislation cleared.
Paul and Lee were the only senators to vote against the legislation.
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