WASHINGTON (CBS) — A day after an impassioned plea from comedian Jon Stewart, a House committee unanimously passed a bill funding the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. Two local Pennsylvania lawmakers were part of the vote to move the bill forward.
The fund covers medical costs of first responders, volunteers and survivors suffering from 9/11-related illnesses. The bill will go to the full House next month for a vote.
More than 40,000 people have applied for the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded with 21,000 claims still pending. On Wednesday, a unanimous vote to extend the fund came on the heels of Stewart’s emotional testimony.
“You are ignoring them,” Stewart told lawmakers Wednesday.
In a hearing room packed with first responders, Stewart berated lawmakers in attendance.
“Your indifference costs these men and women their most valuable commodity — time,” he said.
Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, angrily called out lawmakers who sparsely attended a hearing on a bill to ensure the fund be extended. It has helped tens of thousands of people who inhaled deadly toxins at Ground Zero.
The $7.4 billion Congress approved for the fund in 2015 has nearly run out, forcing the fund’s administrator to slash payouts.
The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday which will permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund. The fund was set to expire in 2020.
Two local lawmakers were in attendance at Tuesday’s hearing. Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, who represents the 5th District of Pennsylvania, attended the sub-committee hearing, sitting before an emotional Stewart, and voted with lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to extend the fund.
Rep. Madeline Dean, of the 4th District of Pennsylvania, was also present for most of the heartbreaking testimony from first responders, but was not there for Stewart’s testimony. Her press secretary sent CBS3 a statement, which reads, in part, “Congresswoman Dean is an original co-sponsor of the bill to reauthorize the victim’s fund through 2020. And this morning she voted to successfully pass this bill out of committee.”
Still, Stewart’s piercing words ring loudly throughout the halls of Congress.
“This should be flipped. This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long,” Stewart told lawmakers.
The bill will now go to the floor for a full vote in the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass. Meantime, the number of claims for the 9/11 responders fund has been on the rise over the last two years.