Jon Ste­wart ex­co­ri­ates Congress for ab­sences at 9/11 vic­tims fund hear­ing

Lodi News-Sentinel - - NATION - By Michael McAuliff

Maybe this time will do it. Maybe Congress fi­nally got the mes­sage, and af­ter 18 years will pass per­ma­nent leg­is­la­tion to help Sept. 11, 2001, first re­spon­ders.

At least, mem­bers of the House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee said they would Tues­day as they heard tes­ti­mony on a new bill to fully ex­tend the ex­pir­ing Vic­tim Com­pen­sa­tion Fund that has al­ready slashed pay­outs by more than half.

All it took was the pleas of med­i­cal ex­perts, sur­vivors, a newly wid­owed mom, a dy­ing NYPD de­tec­tive and an ab­so­lute blis­ter­ing by for­mer “Daily Show” host Jon Ste­wart.

“Be­hind me, a filled room of 9/11 first re­spon­ders. And in front of me, a nearly empty Congress,” Ste­wart told the com­mit­tee, look­ing from a wit­ness chair at the raised seats of mem­bers, most of which were not oc­cu­pied.

He pointed to the peo­ple pack­ing seats be­hind him and be­side him. “Sick and dy­ing, they brought them­selves down here to speak — to no one. It’s shame­ful,” Ste­wart said. “It’s an em­bar­rass­ment to the coun­try and it’s a stain on this in­sti­tu­tion.”

Ste­wart went through a litany of con­gres­sional fail­ure that is by now fa­mil­iar to him and to all the other 9/11 ad­vo­cates in that room. In 2010, af­ter years of de­nials by fed­eral and lo­cal of­fi­cials that there was even a real prob­lem, Congress rec­og­nized 9/11 tox­ins were mak­ing peo­ple sick and killing them. But it passed only five years’ worth of help. In 2015, it passed per­ma­nent health care, but left com­pen­sa­tion at just five more years.

That Vic­tim Com­pen­sa­tion Fund is what is run­ning out of money now, long be­fore its 2020 ex­pi­ra­tion. In Fe­bru­ary, the fund’s spe­cial master, Rupa Bhat­tacharyya, an­nounced pay­outs had to be slashed by at least 50%.

Dr. Jac­que­line Mo­line, an expert on 9/11 ill­nesses, tes­ti­fied Tues­day that she ex­pects to see an­other 20,000 can­cer cases emerge re­lated to 9/11. That leaves out wors­en­ing breath­ing ill­nesses and other ail­ments.

One wit­ness was a first re­spon­der who al­ready has can­cer. Re­tired NYPD De­tec­tive Luis Al­varez came to tell Congress that he wouldn’t be in that hear­ing room at all if the leg­is­la­tors had acted sooner.

“I should not be here with you, but you made me come,” said Al­varez, who is frail from his dis­ease and read his re­marks slowly. “You made me come be­cause I will not stand by and watch as my friends with can­cer from 9/11, like me, are val­ued less than any­one else be­cause of when they get sick and die.”

Al­varez al­ready got com­pen­sated for his can­cer, and isn’t wor­ried about the fu­ture for his own fam­ily. But any­one com­ing af­ter him will get much less, sim­ply be­cause of the tim­ing, and the lim­its Congress put on the com­pen­sa­tion fund.

Al­varez doesn’t know how much longer he will live. He said he was “lucky enough to have had 68 rounds of chemo,” and was head­ing for round 69 on Wed­nes­day.

It meant his fam­ily was se­cure, and he had time to spend with them, un­like so many other first re­spon­ders.

Ste­wart pointed to the cruel irony that Al­varez was spend­ing some of that pre­cious time in a hear­ing room, nearly 18 years af­ter the ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

“We don’t want to be here. Lou doesn’t want to be here. None of these peo­ple want to be here,” Ste­wart said. “But they are. And they’re not here for them­selves. They’re here to con­tinue fight­ing for what’s right.”

Re­spon­ders, Ste­wart pointed out, took five sec­onds to an­swer the alarms of 9/11.

Congress is still grind­ing slowly away with “cal­lous indifferen­ce and rank hypocrisy,” Ste­wart said. “Your indifferen­ce cost these men and women their most valu­able com­mod­ity — time,” he said, shak­ing his head to col­lect him­self — “the one thing they’re run­ning out of.”

He also took aim at an­other claim he’s heard in nearly 10 years of push­ing for 9/11 aid — the as­ser­tion that it’s a New York is­sue.

“Al-Qaida didn’t shout ‘Death to Tribeca!’ They at­tacked Amer­ica,” Ste­wart said.

ZACH GIB­SON/GETTY IM­AGES

For­mer “Daily Show” host Jon Ste­wart tes­ti­fies dur­ing a House Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee hear­ing on reau­tho­riza­tion of the Septem­ber 11th Vic­tim Com­pen­sa­tion Fund on Capi­tol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Tues­day. The fund pro­vides fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance to re­spon­ders, vic­tims and their fam­i­lies who re­quire med­i­cal care re­lated to health is­sues they suf­fered in the af­ter­math of 9/11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks.

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