Jon Stewart gave a heartfelt speech to a near empty congress in June 2019 as he advocated for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). The comedian and activist painted a tragic yet realistic picture of the current state of our country and Federal Government.
The VCF was founded in 2010 and provides compensation to first responders that were physically injured during the job or who are struggling with an illness that arose from being there. The fund also provides financial assistance to families who lost loved ones during this terrible act of terrorism. Nearly 3,000 innocent American citizens were killed that day, while over 6,000 sustained injuries. As of May 31, 2019 the VCF has seen over 50,000 eligible claims and 47,000 of those have qualified for compensation.
The Federal Government argues that the VCF is running out of money and because of this they are planning to reduce the benefits by 70% starting February 1, 2019. Stewart passionately informed the committee that it only took 5 seconds for first responders to respond to the tragedy. These people did not run away from the terror, they ran into it to help, because that was their job. Stewart ended his speech stating, “They responded, in 5 seconds, they did their jobs. 18 years later, do yours.”
The very day next after Stewart’s testimony, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed the bill, permanently reauthorizing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised on Tuesday to responders that the measure would pass the house and even advance before Independence Day break.
Less than one month after Stewart’s emotional plea, the VCF saw a glimpse of victory. The House of Representatives voted to pass the bipartisan bill 402 to 12 in favor of expanding the fund by $10.2 billion, as well as expanding benefits for the victim’s lifetime.
This bill passed the House rather quickly, as this cause was brought to an emotional level by the death of Luis G. Alvarez, a former New York City detective and advocate for the VCF, who succumbed to complications arising from colorectal cancer likely caused by his work at Ground Zero.
The bill, however, took an unexpected turn when Senator Rand Paul blocked a vote to permanently authorize the fund over his concerns of massive debt. Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell has vowed to pass the bill before break in August.
As the decision looms, we can only hold out hope for the victims and first responders who acted with incredible bravery and heroism.