Emergency responders, health care professionals, and recovery workers injured on September 11th now have medical compensation for the next 70 years.
President Donald Trump signed the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) bill into law during a ceremony on Monday at the White House Rose Garden.
Members of the Senate approved the bill just last week. The measure, which extends the VCF until 2090, passed the House on July 12th.
The bill’s passage was a relief for tens of thousands of people who were hurt as a direct result of the September 11th attacks or exposed to thousands of hazardous substances, including asbestos while cleaning up the site.
Present Day Fund “Dangerously Low”
The current victim’s fund expires on December 18, 2020. On June 11th, VCF administrator Special Master Rupa Bhattacharyya testified before members of the House Judiciary Committee; warning resources were already running out.
After assessing data and publishing the organization’s annual report in February, she determined the VCF didn’t have enough money to compensate all of the individuals and families who needed assistance.
An increase in severe illnesses among the victims led to a significant surge in claims, forcing the organization to reduce payouts significantly, Bhattacharyya said.
From 2011 to 2016, nearly 19,000 people filed claims. Just two years later, from 2016 to 2018, the fund processed more than 20,000.
“Keeping in mind that we must maintain a funding reserve for administrative costs, we have just over $2 billion left, with over 21,000 claims and amendments still needing a decision,” Bhattacharyya said. “While some number of those pending claims will be denied, and some number of amendments will not warrant any change to the original award, it is still clear that the VCF projects a shortfall.”
Illness Increases Among 9/11 Victims
The VCF was initially established in 2001, and according to the Justice Department, distributed more than $7 billion from 2001 to 2004. A portion of that money was given to family members of the more than 2,880 people who died between the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, the Pentagon, and United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. The rest of the funding was distributed to 2,680 people who suffered injuries that day.
Members of Congress voted to reactivate the VCF in 2011. It was funded again in 2015, when lawmakers appropriated $7.4 billion in aid for another five years, until December 2020.
The problem? As the years pass, more and more people are developing severe health complications. In the aftermath of the attacks, first responders and recovery workers have suffered many different types of serious illnesses, from lung disease to cancer, resulting in thousands of injury and death claims.
Earlier this year, concerned about the VCF’s dwindling resources, a group of surviving first responders began to lobby members of Congress. The group celebrated its first victory on July 12th, when the House voted to extend the current expiration date. This week’s Senate approval was another step in the right direction.
To date, the VCF has awarded more than $5 billion to nearly 22,500 people suffering from physical health problems as a result of the 9/11 attacks. The Congressional Budget Office anticipates the fund will need around $10 billion to fund claims through the next decade.