A House panel passed a bill Wednesday to authorize additional funding for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund until 2090, one day after comedian Jon Stewart sharply criticized members of Congress for not attending a subcommittee hearing on the issue and gave an emotional plea to extend the funding.
The bill passed on a voice vote without opposition and now heads to the House floor for the full chamber to vote. The vote comes after the fund's administrator announced awards for pending and future claims would have to be cut unless Congress acted.
"Every sick responder and survivor should be treated with the same dignity and compassion," said House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat from New York. "All responders and survivors, whether they got sick in 2015 or will get sick in 2025 or 2035, should be properly compensated. Congress must act to make that happen."
The current law was renewed in 2015 and is set to expire in 2020. At the time of its last renewal, Congress appropriated $4.6 billion to the fund, bringing the total appropriated amount of the fund over the years to $7.4 billion .
The new bill would extend the expiration to 2090. It does not call for a specific amount of funds but whatever sums necessary through 2090.
The fund's administrator announced in February that there was insufficient funding to pay all claims. The fund has seen a significant rise in claims in the past two years -- over 24,000 claims in 2017, 2018 and January 2019. That's more claims than in the first five years of the fund combined -- when only 19,000 claims were filed.
The aftermath of the destruction from the 9/11 attacks has led to severe health impacts on first responders and recovery workers, including lung impairment and cancer, with thousands of death and injury claims.
Stewart said in the Judiciary subcommittee hearing that those not present at the hearing should be "ashamed," and he told CNN's Suzanne Malveaux after that Congress needs to fund the aid "indefinitely for the lives of these men and women and not for five years."
If the bill passes the House, it would also need to pass the the Senate. Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer said on Wednesday that "shamefully it has always been a struggle" for Congress to provide for the first responders' health care as they get respiratory illnesses and cancers. "We are done with that," he said, urging Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to put the bill on the floor as soon as the House passes it.
At a news conference on Tuesday, McConnell said, "We've always dealt with that in the past in a compassionate way and I assume we will again."