Trump signs 9/11 victims compensation bill

Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., and Jon Stewart, center, are seen in the Capitol before the Senate voted on permanent authorization of September 11th Victim Compensation Fund on Tuesday, July 23, 2019. The president signed the measure into law on Monday. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump signed legislation Monday providing a financial lifeline to thousands of victims suffering health problems from the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Trump hailed the Rose Garden signing ceremony as a chance to “come together as one nation to support our Sept. 11 heroes.”

The president’s signature puts an end to a lengthy drama that stretched from Manhattan’s Ground Zero to the halls of the Capitol, led by a high-profile push by comedian Jon Stewart. The issue took on greater urgency earlier this year when it became clear the special fund set up to compensate first responders and other victims of the 2001 attacks was running low on cash and would be forced to cut payouts for new claimants.

“We have an obligation, and it’s a sacred obligation, to the families of the first responders,” Trump said, noting some first responders on the day of the terrorist attack made “the ultimate sacrifice.”

Added Trump, a native New Yorker: “I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder.”

The bill will effectively make permanent the special compensation fund for those who got sick with cancer and other ailments in the attacks’ aftermath, many of whom breathed toxic air for days or weeks at Ground Zero, the site of the former World Trade Center twin towers. The measure provides however much money is needed to pay all eligible claims.

The House passed the bill on a 402-12 vote on July 12. The Senate followed suit on July 23, clearing the measure on a vote of 97-2.

The compensation fund was first created 11 days after the 2001 attacks, and was extended twice. The number of victims suffering health ailments keeps rising, partly because of the lag time involved in developing and diagnosing cancer.

The new legislation extends the life of the fund through fiscal 2092 and guarantees payments to all claims filed by Oct. 1, 2090. While 22,400 claimants already have received payments from the fund, an additional 17,600 remained under review, according to the Congressional Budget Office. And another 18,100 claims are projected to be filed and paid after Oct. 1 of this year, the CBO said.

The measure is estimated to cost nearly $10.2 billion in the coming decade and billions more after that.

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