Update: Thursday afternoon
Senator Lee was able to secure unanimous consent on two amendments. Final passage is expected next week.
“The men and women who responded to the horrific events of September 11, 2001 are among the great heroes of American history,” Sen. Lee said. “Since 2011, the 9/11 Victims Fund has always had finite authorizations, and by all accounts, it has an excellent record avoiding waste and abuse. These two things are not coincidental. They go together,” Sen. Lee continued.
Update: Thursday morning the senator issued the following statement:
“Last night Jon Stewart said he believed a billion dollars a year for ten years was a reasonable request for 9/11 first responders. I agree. That is why I filed an amendment last night funding the program at $10.18 billion over ten years, the exact same amount the Congressional Budget Office estimated the program will need,” Sen. Lee said.
The initial Victims Compensation Fund was available for roughly 2 years after the 9/11 attacks for persons who were present at the time or in the immediate aftermath of the three sites or for passengers and crew of any aircraft that crashed on 9/11. Just over 5,500 claimants received a total of just over $7 billion.
The fund was reopened in 2011 and extended eligibility for benefits to persons who suffered physical injuries/illnesses as a result of rescue, recovery or debris removal work at or near the 9/11 crash sites and to persons who lived, worked, or were near the World Trade Center on 9/11.
It was reauthorized in 2015. The total funding available to the Fund from 2011 through 2020 is $7.375 billion. At this point the fund has made roughly $5.2 billion in claims but has had to start trimming awards since February to ensure that valid claimants receive at least a portion of their benefits due.
The current bill as written would not authorize the Fund for another 5 years, like the previous bills. Instead it would authorize the program until 2092 with no cap on the funding.
“I do not want to stop the bill’s consideration and believe we can and should address the health needs of those first responders of the 9/11 attack,” Sen. Lee said. “I simply want to ensure that Congress has some continued oversight to ensure the Fund continues to follow the law as intended. We have seen too many times government programs divert from their intended use when Congress abdicates its oversight role.”
WASHINGTON (ABC4 News) – Critics say Senator Mike Lee (R – Utah) is standing between 9/11 first responders and the money they desperately need for medical care.
Last week a bill extending the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives by a vote of 402 to 12. Now it’s in the Senate where 73 of the 100 members support it but on Wednesday Senator Lee objected to passing the bill without a vote.
Television host Jon Stewart was emotional as he testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee on June 11th.
“They did their jobs, with courage, grace, tenacity, humility,” Stewart told the Committee. “18 years later…do yours!”
Stewart was seeking additional funding for Ground Zero responders who continue to suffer and die nearly 18 years after the World Trade Center towers were attacked.
“It’s projected by the end of this year, first of next year, the post 9/11 deaths will supersede the number that were lost that day,” 9/11 Never Forget Mobile Exhibit operator Bill Puckett said during a recent visit to West Valley City.
On Wednesday Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D – New York) attempted to fast track the bill to the President’s desk without a vote, but Lee and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul objected, saying they want an amendment to cut other programs to offset the bill’s $10.2 billion cost.
Senator Lee was not available for comment Wednesday but his communications director Conn Carroll released a statement reading:
“Sen. Lee fully expects the 9/11 compensation bill to pass before the August recess and he is seeking a vote to ensure the fund has the proper oversight in place to prevent fraud and abuse.”
Meanwhile a pair of New York firefighters union presidents visited Lee’s office Wednesday.
“We are here to ask him to lift the hold. To stop playing games in the Senate,” Gerard Fitzgerald, President of Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 94 said. “We’re trying to get this bill passed.”
“We have people who are sick. We have people who are dying. We will be burying another New York City firefighter on Saturday who has succumbed to his illnesses from 9/11,” Jake Lemonda, President of Uniformed Firefighters Association Local 854 added. “This is real and we’re here to get this done.”
The bill reportedly has the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R – Kentucky) and is expected to eventually pass despite the delay.
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