Washington, D.C. –Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening remarks, as prepared, during a Subcommittee on theConstitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties hearing on the need to reauthorize the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund:
"Eighteen years ago, on September 11, 2001, Osama bin Laden orchestrated the deadliest terrorist attack in American history, killing almost 3,000 people in a single day and wounding thousands more. In New York City, the attack happened in my district. The attacks created an environmental nightmare when the Twin Towers collapsed in lower Manhattan. Hundreds of tons of contaminants poured onto the streets and covered first responders, residents, office workers, and students in a cloud of toxic dust.
"When many of us think of 9/11, we think of planes flying into the Twin Towers or we see the Towers collapsing. But there were other pictures that day that captured the gravity of the loss, the scale of the destruction, and the massive amounts of toxins that were released into the air on that Tuesday morning. I want to share those images with you today. As you can see, New York City was covered in toxic ash. The air was full of debris, dust, and other deadly toxins. Many of my constituents were forced to flee their homes. Fire fighters, police, and rescue and recovery workers from around the country came to our aid – working in horrible, dangerous conditions to help one another and help the United States get back on its feet.
"I was in Washington with my wife when the attacks began, and we immediately rushed to return to New York City by train that day since all flights had been grounded. What sticks with me from that day was the eerie silence that greeted me when I stepped out of Penn Station. The city seemed empty but for the strange odor that hung in the air. The next day, on September 12, I walked the streets of Lower Manhattan – through the rivers of ash and debris – and I saw the unthinkable damage. I was there with then-Mayor Guiliani, and we were soon joined by then-President George Bush, then-Senator Hillary Clinton, and Senator Chuck Schumer. There was no question in our minds that we must work together in a bipartisan manner to do whatever it took to get New York back on its feet, to get the country moving again, and to get help for everyone affected by the attacks.
"But, in the days following the attack, a problem arose. The EPA insisted, contrary to ample evidence, that the air in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn was "safe to breathe." That was a lie. It was a lie that caused many thousands of people to become sick, and – tragically – for many of those same people to die. And it was a lie I worked for many years to expose. Because, as we knew even then, the air was not safe to breathe. In fact, it was deadly.
"Thousands of responders, from all over the country, worked on the site. Thousands and thousands of responders and workers and residents were exposed to horrible toxins and were not provided with protective equipment. The federal government did not step in to conduct a proper comprehensive clean-up of the schools, offices, and residences in lower Manhattan. They told my constituents to clean up asbestos and other toxins from their apartments with a damp cloth and no protective equipment.
"Today, as a result of those lies, more than 95,000 responders and survivors are sick.
"It was for those tens of thousands of brave, selfless, and innocent responders and survivors that Congress came together in 2010, after many years of struggles and negotiation, to pass the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and fulfill our moral obligation, as Lincoln said, "to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan." The Zadroga Act established a national health program to care for those made sick by exposure to toxins in the days, weeks, and months after the 9/11 attack. It also re-opened the Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) to provide support for sick responders or survivors. As the programs were set to expire in 2015, Congress once again came together in a bipartisan manner and reauthorized them. We made the health program essentially permanent and set the expiration date far into the future, the year 2090, ensuring that all those affected by the attacks of September 11, 2001 would have the health care they need for as long as they need it.But the 2015 reauthorization only extended the VCF for 5 years.
"Today, the programs are mostly working: residents of 433 of 435 congressional districts receive care through the 9/11 health program. More than 28,000 individuals, representing all 50 states, have been found eligible for compensation from the VCF. More than $5.1 billion has been awarded. Our actions as a Congress have touched many lives, provided comfort to the sick, and helped families struggling with the loss of a loved one to pay the bills and send children to college.
"We know all too well that people who are sick now will only get sicker and many will die. Those who are not sick now may become sick years in the future as diseases surface after long latency periods. We are already seeing the impact that long-delayed cancers have had. Nearly 11,000 responders and survivors have been diagnosed with cancer to date, a number which will only go up. It is clear the five-year reauthorization was not nearly long enough.
"Further, as the number of sick responders and survivors continues to rise, the limited resources Congress provided to the VCF have been strained, and now thousands of sick responders and survivors are facing up to 70 percent cuts in compensation. These cuts were certainly not intended by Congress, and we know that the Administration and the Special Master are not making these cuts maliciously. Rather, the VCF is working to keep the program funded as long as possible to give every sick responder and survivor at least some compensation. But that does not mean we can simply accept these cuts and allow the program to expire when so many more men, women, and young adults will need compensation and care.
"That is what brings us here today. A 70 percent cut in compensation to victims of 9/11 is simply intolerable, and Congress must not allow it. Congress also must not allow the VCF to expire while people are still sick and the World Trade Center Health Program is still operational.
"The time has come for us to act.
"In the past, I would have had to call upon a committee chairman to call a hearing or to schedule a mark up on legislation to address these problems. But, today, it gives me great pleasure, as Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, to convene this hearing and to announce that we will not wait to mark up this legislation any longer. We will hold a mark up of legislation to address this problem tomorrow.
"There are two moral imperatives that dictate why we must act. Number one, it was America that was attacked on 9/11, not just New York or Washington, DC. Number two, it was the federal government that lied when it told everyone it was safe to return to lower Manhattan, when they knew that it was not. Now, the federal government must bear the burden to care for and support all people affected by the September 11th attacks and their aftermath.
"Again, I am proud to work in a bipartisan manner with my longtime colleagues Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Peter King and Senators Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer to reauthorize these critical programs. I am pleased that we also have the support of Senator Cory Gardner and our very own Ranking Member of the Full Judiciary Committee – Representative Doug Collins. In fact, we have more than 300 bipartisan cosponsors of this bill, and I want to thank the people in this room for everything they have done to get so many congressional cosponsors so quickly.
"I urge all of my colleagues to work with us in support of reauthorization and to move this bill through Congress and on to the President’s desk as soon as possible.
"Just as we stood together as a nation in the days following September 11, 2001, and just as we stood together in 2010 and 2015 to authorize and fund these vital programs, we must now join forces one more time to ensure that the heroes of 9/11 are not abandoned when they need us most.
"We must sustain the VCF. We must protect the heroes and survivors of 9/11. We must pass the "Never Forget the Heroes Act of 2019." And we will.
"Before I yield back, I want to add one more thing.
"For many people in this country, and perhaps even people on this Committee, 9/11 ended that day. Perhaps they light a candle in church every year on the anniversary. Perhaps they pray for the victims. But for our panel of witnesses today, for many people in the audience, for Congresswoman Maloney, Congressman King, and for me and my staff, 9/11 never ended. We live every day with the events of that morning and the impact of the decisions made by the federal government in the aftermath. And while I know it can be frustrating watching a body as large as the U.S. Congress work its will, when we do act, we can bring tremendous resources and the strength of the entire federal government to bear on a problem and can improve the lives of so many. It is my hope, and my sincere wish, that Congress will act swiftly to stop these devastating cuts, to extend this program, and to provide as much peace of mind as we possibly can to those who continue to suffer from the 9/11 attacks. We will never forget.
"I yield back."