Washington, D.C. – Today, House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) delivered the following opening statement for the markup of H.R. 1327, theNever Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act:
"The September 11th attacks created an environmental nightmare. When the Twin Towers collapsed in my district 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. Despite clear evidence of this environmental and health disaster, the EPA insisted, that the air in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn was "safe to breathe." That was not true. Because, as we knew even then, the air was not safe to breathe. In fact, it was deadly.
"Thousands and thousands of responders, 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. Today, as a direct result of the federal government’s inaction and deception, 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 to fulfill our moral obligation, as President 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 in 2090, ensuring that all those affected by the 9/11 attacks would have the health care they need for as long as they need it. But the 2015 reauthorization only extended the VCF for only 5 years.
"As we heard in the Constitution Subcommittee hearing on the VCF yesterday, that 5-year reauthorization was not nearly enough. People are still getting sick as diseases like cancer emerge after long latency periods. Those already sick are getting sicker, and tragically many are dying and have died. 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% cuts in compensation.
"Yesterday, we heard from many witnesses who are sick or have lost a loved one because of 9/11 related illnesses. Two of those witnesses—an FBI Agent who worked at the Pentagon site and the widow of a New York construction worker who worked on the pile at Ground Zero—will have their awards cut by 50% and 70%, respectively, because of the claims review process timing. Three of the other witnesses received their full compensation, simply because they got sick earlier.
"I refuse to accept that the lives of some responders and survivors are worth more than others. Every sick responder and survivor should be treated with the same dignity and compassion, and 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.
"That is why we are here today to markup H.R. 1327, the "Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Reauthorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act," a bill I introduced along with Representatives Carolyn Maloney and Peter King. This legislation extends the VCF to 2090, matching the authorization for the World Trade Center Health Program. It also reverses any cuts made to awards by the VCF due to insufficient funds. The bill has more than 300 bipartisan cosponsors in the House, including the Ranking Member of the Full Committee, the Gentleman from Georgia, Mr. Collins, and, as of yesterday’s hearing, the Ranking Member of the Constitution Subcommittee, the Gentleman from Louisiana, Mr. Johnson.
"Yesterday we heard the difficult and often heartbreaking testimony of our witnesses. We have asked so much of our 9/11 responders and survivors. We relied on them to rush to the World Trade Center and the Pentagon under horrible conditions. We asked them to spend months on a burning, dangerous pile. All the responders on our panel echoed the same sentiment—there was nowhere else they would rather have been than at Ground Zero on 9/11.
"We asked the surrounding community to return to schools, offices, and homes the federal government knew were horribly contaminated and unsafe. And they went back and re-opened businesses and got New York and this country moving again. But because of limits placed on the VCF, we have now also asked them to come to Congress every five years to beg for help. It is time for us to give responders and survivors peace of mind, once and for all, and pass this long-term reauthorization to ensure the VCF will be there for them as long as they need it."