9/11 First Responders Fund Clears Senate and Heads to Trump – The New York Times

WASHINGTON — Thousands of emergency workers who rushed to the rubble of the World Trade Center after the Sept. 11 attacks will be granted health care and other compensation for the rest of their lives. The Senate gave final approval on Tuesday to legislation to care permanently for those who have grown deathly ill from the toxins of ground zero.

When the Senate’s 97-2 vote was gaveled to a close, applause erupted on the floor. Jon Stewart, the comedian who championed the legislation, broke into tears in the Capitol. Now the legislation heads to President Trump’s desk for his expected signature.

It would ensure that the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund is funded for the next seven decades at a cost of $10.2 billion over the next 10 years. It offers financial stability as the number of medical claims from emergency workers who worked for months in Lower Manhattan after the 2001 attack surpass 22,000.

Passage was an emotional moment for emergency workers and their champion, Mr. Stewart, who have pressed doggedly for the legislation, even as former firefighters and police officers died before they could see victory.

“Too long we’ve waited to settle this matter,” said Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, who championed the legislation along with his fellow New York Democrat, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand. “Now we are here, about to exit the tunnel, and guarantee once and for all that the heroes who rushed to the towers 18 years ago will no longer have to worry about compensation for their families when they’re gone.”

Ms. Gillibrand said just before the vote, “This should never have been a fight. This should never have taken this long.”

Senators rejected two amendments that attempted to curtail the measure’s price tag in the face of the federal government’s climbing deficit, even as some lawmakers fretted about the surge of deficit spending that would come from a budget deal reached on Monday. One of those amendments, introduced by Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky, would have offset the cost of the legislation with spending cuts, while another, proposed by Senator Mike Lee, Republican of Utah, would have capped the fund at the Congressional Budget Office’s $10.2 billion estimate over the next 10 years.

Instead, lawmakers passed the bill with few spending constraints, as a promise to survivors, their family members and advocates that they would no longer have to traipse to Washington to beg for the fund’s extension. Senators Lee and Paul were the only no votes.

The legislation’s passage culminated a lengthy fight to preserve the fund and its teetering finances, as more of the emergency personnel, volunteers and survivors who inhaled toxic fumes, dust and smoke at ground zero become gravely ill.

Between the fund’s reopening in 2011 and May 2019, about 22,400 claims have been awarded, and the share of awards granted because of cancer has grown to 45 percent, according to a Congressional Budget Office analysis. About 17,600 claims are under review, and the bill includes about $4 billion to ensure that claimants who received smaller awards because of declining funds will be reimbursed.

In February, the special master administering the money announced that payments would have to be cut in half for those who had already made claims, and by 70 percent for any future applications. More than $5 billion of the $7.4 billion allocated in 2015 for the next five years has been spent.

The measure now carries the names of three emergency workers and advocates who died because of illness contracted as a result of their work after the attack: Detective James Zadroga, the firefighter Raymond J. Pfeifer and Luis G. Alvarez, another former New York City detective who died last month after pleading with Congress to pass the legislation that now bears his name.

“Congress can never repay these men, women and families for their sacrifices,” said Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, in a floor speech on Tuesday, recalling how a group of emergency workers gave him Mr. Alvarez’s badge when they came to Capitol Hill to urge for a vote on the measure. “But we can do our small part to try and make our heroes whole.”

Mr. McConnell was previously targeted by advocates as an “impediment,” as Mr. Stewart put it, to the measure. On Tuesday, Mr. Stewart was again on hand to celebrate the bill’s success, after delivering a passionate rebuke last month of Congress’s delay in pushing the measure through both chambers.