Veteran comedian and native New Jerseyan Jon Stewart testified at a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund this week.
“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” Stewart said in his statement. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders; and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress.” But the hearing was not being held before the full committee.
The fund has faced recent financial problems, including a spike in the number of claims ahead of its December 2020 expiration date. In February, the fund’s administrator, Rupa Bhattacharyya, announced there was “insufficient funding” to “pay all current and projected claims at the same levels as under current policies and procedures” and said future claims would only be paid a fraction of their prior value.
Stewart spoke alongside Luis Alvarez, a retired detective and 9/11 responder from the New York Police Department who has cancer linked to the 9/11 attacks and the aftermath. “Less than 24 hours from now, I will be serving my 69th round of chemotherapy,” Alvarez said. “I should not be here with you, but you made me come. You made me come because I will not stand by and watch as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else.”
Local, state and federal officials have rallied around the Never Forget the Heroes Act, which would provide funding for the victim fund through fiscal year 2090. The bill was introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., in October 2018, and reintroduced this year, but has since languished in the House.
On June 12, The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Wednesday, the day after comedian Jon Stewart gave impassioned testimony in support of the bill in video that quickly went viral.
The bill will now go to the floor for a full vote in the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass. It’s unclear whether Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will take up the bill in the Senate, although Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Wednesday that he was “imploring, pleading, even begging” McConnell to bring the bill to the floor as soon as it passes in the House.
When asked about the legislation, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY., sidestepped the issue, saying he would have to look at the bill.