WASHINGTON – In its final vote before lawmakers left Washington for November’s midterm elections, the House on Friday overwhelmingly passed bipartisan legislation that would authorize $2.7 billion in compensation payments to the families of victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The bill passed 400-31, with just one Democrat, Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, opposing it. It was to go next to the Senate, which had already begun its campaign season recess and where its prospects are uncertain.
The bill would direct the money to be used for lump-sum payments to immediate family members of Sept. 11 victims who have been barred from receiving money from the U.S. Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism Fund. It was created in 2015 to provide compensation to Americans held as hostages by Iran and their families, and other victims of international state-sponsored terrorism, and later expanded to include 9/11 families.
But some direct family members had been excluded from the fund because they had already received payments from a separate one created specifically to compensate the relatives of Sept. 11 victims.
“For years, the wives, husbands and children of those killed on 9/11 were refused assistance from this particular fund, even as more distant relatives received compensation,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said. “This is about fairness today.”
She added: “No amount of money, again, can replace those who were stolen away, nor restore the memories and moments that could have been. But with this legislation, we can further ease two decades of anguish.”
To fund the lump-sum payments, the bill would draw from unspent money from the Paycheck Protection Program, a federal initiative created in 2020 to offer loans to small-business owners who kept their workers employed during the coronavirus pandemic.
Victims organizations lauded the House for passing the legislation with such broad bipartisan support.
“The voices of the heroes lost on 9/11 were heard through their children as they advocated alongside amazing champions on the Hill,” said Angela Mistrulli, who founded the organization Kids Who Lost Parents on Sept. 11, 2001, Fight for Equality.
The legislation, sponsored by Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., was based on a similar measure introduced in August by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y.
Malliotakis said that “5,364 individuals who lost loved ones on that fateful day have fought for 21 years for their entitled compensation under the United States Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism Fund after being wrongfully excluded.”
“Today, the House finally took a step to correct this solemn wrong and provide our 9/11 widows, widowers and children with the redress they deserve,” she said.
House lawmakers have also been under pressure to address a $3 billion funding deficit for the World Trade Center Health Program, a federal health care initiative that covers medical treatment and monitoring for more than 117,000 survivors and emergency workers who responded to the attacks 21 years ago.
The shortfall, prompted by a rise in medical costs and cancer rates over the past three years, means the program will not be able to cover new members starting in October 2024 if the gap is not addressed, Republican lawmakers have warned.
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.
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