Jon Stewart spent years upbraiding Congress from his perch on the set of The Daily Show, perhaps never to so great an effect as when he embarrassed lawmakers over their failure to help the ailing first responders of 9/11 — a cause that is still very much on the former show host’s mind.
Now that the 9/11 law that Congress did eventually pass is starting to expire, he plans to walk the halls of Congress next Wednesday, Sept. 16 with about 100 responders while they make personal appeals to members. Their goal is to help renew the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, which starts phasing out next month.
The bill, named after an NYPD detective who died after exposure to the toxic site, passed more than nine years after the attacks, when Congress was finally cajoled into addressing the mounting problems suffered by Americans who rushed from all over the nation to help in the aftermath. But funding for the $1.6 billion health and monitoring effort ends in October.
It has enough cash on hand to keep operating for up to another year, but the resulting uncertainty could cause problems for patients and push doctors to seek more permanent work. More than 72,000 responders and survivors from every Congressional district are enrolled in health programs funded by the bill.
The $2.75 billion Victims Compensation Fund — which lost nearly $90 million to the sequestration budget cuts — ends on Oct. 3, 2016. Anyone who is diagnosed with 9/11-linked cancers or other ailments after Oct. 3 next year will not be eligible for anything.
The program isn’t facing as harsh a deadline now as it did five years ago, but it is competing with other major problems facing Congress, including the Iran deal, the budget and the looming debt limit. And still, most members have not signed on to the new bill. Advocates are hoping Stewart can use his skill and star power to motivate lawmakers to pass legislation before the program starts running into a cash crunch.
“Jon Stewart and our first responders shouldn’t have to be in Washington walking the halls of Congress to keep the health care program running that our heroes need and deserve,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D – N.Y.), in a statement. “Congress should do the right thing and treat our 9/11 heroes who answered the call of duty with the same dignity and respect as our veterans.”