9/11 Victim Compensation Fund renewal bill clears major hurdle with backing by GOP congressman
The bill to renew the cash-strapped 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is getting a major boost, with the backing of the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), who regularly spars with Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) on other issues, has formally added his name as a co-sponsor to the "Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act," his office confirmed.
“We can’t afford to forget the pain and loss 9/11 brought to our country or the brave heroes who sacrificed themselves rescuing victims of these attacks," said Collins. "I’m thankful for their courage and proud to cosponsor this 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund bill.”
Victims Compensation Fund Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya announced in February that awards from the fund were being cut at least in half because the fund was running out of money. Of $7.4 billion appropriated for it by Congress, more than $5 billion has already been spent to cover rising numbers of responders and victims getting sick and dying from 9/11 exposure.
Awards that were pending at the time of the announcement were cut 50% and new applications face 70% cuts. Because of the way awards and the cuts are calculated, though, some victims and survivors of the 2001 terror attacks are already seeing their payouts cut to zero.
The only solution is for Congress to pass a new bill, and 9/11 responders have been pushing lawmakers since October to support the new legislation.
John Feal, who runs the 9/11 advocacy organization FealGood Foundation, made the case to Collins in March at a meeting with the congressman, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) and comedian Jon Stewart, who has taken up the 9/11 cause.
"As soon as we left that office, I told Peter and Jon that I was confident that Collins would go on the bill," Feal said.
"I always felt he was a standup guy," Feal added. "The fact that he's going to support our bill now ensures us that other members of the committee, most likely, will not get in the way now."
A strong showing for the measure in the House would also improve the chances for passage in the Senate, where support has been softer and where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has made no promises about the bill's future.
Collins' support also marks an increasingly bipartisan trend for the 9/11 bill, in contrast to most other areas where Congress is legislating lately.
More than 70 Republicans are now backing the bill in the House, including noted conservatives such as North Carolina Rep. Patrick McHenry and Wyoming Rep. Liz Cheney, who is the chair of the House Republican conference.
"These are not small fish," said Feal. "These are important, valuable people that other members of Congress will see and hopefully emulate and get on the bill."
At least 285 members of the House are now sponsoring the bill.
Nadler, whose office did not answer a request for comment, has set the first hearing on the measure for June 11.”