WASHINGTON – On Friday, the House of Representatives voted to reauthorize a fund that compensates victims of 9/11 and their families. The bill passed by a large margin in a 402-12 vote and now goes to the Senate. 11 Republicans and Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., were the only lawmakers to vote against it.
The 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund (VCF) was created after 9/11 to help pay for medical and economic losses as a result of the terrorist attacks, but 18 years later, it’s running out of money and has to make steep cuts to its payments unless it’s reauthorized.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told advocates he would hold a vote on the bill, CNN reports.
The latest iteration of the fund was initially allocated a maximum of about $7.4 billion. But in February 2019, the fund started to run out of money, having already exhausted $5 billion of its allocation. As a result, the fund had been forced to make cuts to its compensation to victims unless it is replenished.
Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., one of the principal sponsors of the legislation, addressed the House, "When the planes hit on 9/11, our first responders did not hesitate...we as a nation have a double moral obligation to take care of the people who take care of us and those who take care of them now because they cannot work."
Congressional Republicans had been skeptical of the price tag of the legislation but still voted for the bill. Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga. noted the bill had been considered without a funding mechanism but said he would vote for the legislation anyway to "support the first responders."
Advocates had argued a price tag could not be put on the fund's reauthorization. The bill does not appropriate a specific amount of money to process victims' compensation claims, instead appropriating "such sums as may be necessary for fiscal year 2019 and each fiscal year thereafter through fiscal year 2090."
But according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate, paying out the outstanding claims and future claims would cost $10.2 billion over the next decade.
"It's very difficult to watch a House and Senate with a trillion dollar deficit try and balance that budget of $10.2 billion over 10 years on the backs of 9/11 victims and first responders," said former "Daily Show" host Jon Stewart in a press conference before the House voted.
The drive to reauthorize the fund had drawn national attention after Stewart and 9/11 first responders gave emotional testimony before a House panel calling on Congress to reauthorize the fund. One of the first responders who had testified, retired New York Police Department detective Luis Alvarez, passed away on June 29 after a years-long battle with cancer he had blamed on toxins inhaled at Ground Zero.
"My sister and I promised him we would be here every step of the way until we got it done," said Phil Alvarez, Luis' brother, at a press conference earlier Friday.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund: House votes to reauthorize fund