U.S. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Gainesville, spoke Wednesday in support of funding a victims’ compensation fund set up after the 9/11 attacks but asked that the Congressional Budget Office provide more information about the costs.
More than 40,000 people have applied to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which assists those with illnesses possibly related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund. About 21,000 claims are pending.
When the World Trade Center collapsed in 2001, a cloud of thick dust hovered in Manhattan and fires burned for weeks. Construction workers, police officers, firefighters and others worked in the soot and often did not have proper respiratory protection.
Since then, many have experienced health problems, including illnesses that appeared almost immediately and others like cancer that developed as the people have aged.
Congressional hearings this week have addressed concerns that the fund could run out of money.
Collins spoke Wednesday at a markup of H.R. 1327, which would provide for the fund for the next 70 years.
The country has seen “heroes become victims” as they deal with health problems related to their work following the Sept. 11 attacks, he said.
“Eighteen years later, our responsibility to these heroes remains clear. Congress must do more than memorialize their sacrifices — we must care for these heroes practically,” Collins said. “9/11 first responders, along with all first responders, deserve to have their heroism recognized through programs that mitigate the damage these servants and their families experience as a direct result of their sacrifice on behalf of others.”
The Justice Department said in February that funds were running out and benefit payments were being cut by up to 70%.
"The plain fact is that we are expending the available funds more quickly than assumed, and there are many more claims than anticipated,” Rupa Bhattacharyya, the fund's special master, said.
Collins said Wednesday that while the financial impact of the bill needed to be clarified, he supported its intent.
“While the fiscal impact of this legislation isn’t clear at the moment, what is clear is our collective duty to ensure our first responders are treated fairly, in accordance with what they’ve already given of themselves to a grateful nation,” he said.
Collins requested that the Congressional Budget Office submit more information about the anticipated costs of reauthorizing the fund.
“Let us keep our priorities straight and our government accountable,” he said. “It is good and right for us to understand the costs that first responders have borne in the wake of September 11th and to ensure that we respond meaningfully.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.