It took nearly 18 years, but anyone sickened or dying from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, finally will have the backing of the federal government after President Trump signed the bill Monday to make 9/11 aid essentially permanent.
Trump signed the “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act” in a sun-soaked Rose Garden, surrounded by dozens of 9/11 responders, union officials and relatives who toiled for years to win passage of the legislation.
“They answered terror with the emotional strength of true warriors,” Trump said. “Our nation owes you a profound debt that no nation can ever pay, but we will keep our promise to you.”
Terence Pfeifer, the son of Ray, who has followed his father’s footsteps to become an FDNY firefighter, was relieved and ecstatic after the bill’s signing.
“Today was amazing. It was everything we could have pictured and more. 9/11 families can finally rest,” Pfeifer said.
The law will ensure that survivors of the attacks and responders who rushed to aid them at the Pentagon, Shanksville, Pa., and the area around Ground Zero can get compensation for their pain, suffering and lost years of work until 2092.
The Congressional Budget Office estimated the law will cost about $10.2 billion for its first 10 years, but that estimate is highly uncertain, and is likely to fall short as more people get cancer and new, slower moving illnesses emerge linked to the fumes and poisons released by the collapse of the twin towers.
Two Republican senators objected to costs, but the law that passed the Congress is open-ended and designed to cover anything that could prove to be a problem once doctors and scientists understand the need.
“It basically prepares everyone for the future. The money will be there, the security will be there,” said New York Rep. Pete King (R-Long Island) a sponsor of the bill who stood in for the New York delegation at the signing. “And they earned it. These are men and women who put their lives on the line and are going through terrible illnesses. Others will go through terrible illnesses.”
The law covers the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, which had been running out of money, and would have expired in 2020. The extension essentially matches the life of the compensation fund to the length of the separate 9/11 health program, which was made permanent in 2015.
Hundreds of people who already saw their payouts cut by more than half saw these cuts restored within an hour of Trump signing the law. VCF Special Master Bhattacharyya announced that the Department of Justice-run program hoped to begin paying out restored awards by Sept. 11.
The law is named after three men who not only answered the call of 9/11, but died from illnesses after their exposure to Ground Zero’s dust and toxins.
NYPD Det. James Zadroga was the first to have his death in 2006 formally linked to his time at the disaster site. Former FDNY Firefighter Ray Pfeifer and NYPD Det. Lou Alvarez both died of cancer after spending some of their last days lobbying Congress for 9/11 legislation. Pfeifer battled for a bill in 2015 amid cancer treatments. Alvarez’s dramatic, heartbreaking testimony along side Jon Stewart in June came just before he was admitted to hospice care.
Terence Pfeifer, a member of Engine 79 in the Bronx, said a sad note to the signing is that the legislation will be needed long into the future.
“Thousands of families have been affected so far. There’s just no end in sight,” he said. “Guys are dying way too early.”
Also on hand were John Feal, and numerous members of his FealGood Foundation, who were part of some 280 lobbying trips Feal ran to sway lawmakers who were reluctant to pass a permanent program for the heroes of Sept. 11.
© 2019 New York Daily News
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