Comedian Jon Stewart visited Capitol Hill on Monday to demand lawmakers pass legislation that would permanently finance a federal victims’ compensation fund for Sept. 11 first responders and their families.
The former host of “The Daily Show,” a longtime advocate for the 9/11 responders, slammed lawmakers for not doing more to avoid a significant funding lapse plaguing the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF).
“Trust me, if the American people in their busy lives had any sense that these shenanigans were going on, they would be outraged,” Stewart said at a press conference Monday at the Capitol.
The Justice Department announced last week that a lack of funding for the VCF would lead to compensation cuts as large 50 to 70 percent for first responders who were made sick by toxins they were exposed to during 9/11 rescue and recovery efforts.
Stewart joined beneficiaries of the VCF on Monday to help a bipartisan group of lawmakers, including Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), introduce the Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act.
The proposed legislation would ensure 9/11 first responders suffering from illnesses with a certified link to the mass attacks would be covered by the VCF program.
Roughly 45,000 people are suffering from at least one 9/11-related chronic health condition and more than 10,000 have been certified with a 9/11-related cancer, Stewart wrote in an Op-Ed for The New York Daily News on Monday.
As years have passed and cancer diagnoses for the first responders have increased, the VCF has had to deal with an increase in claims. The Never Forget the Heroes Act would extend and fund the VCF through 2090.
Stewart condemned Congress for taking so long to fully fund the VCF, as American heroes and their families have been left to suffer.
“This is nonsense,” he said at the press conference. “You guys know it. I know it. This is theater. We’re all down here today. There’s no reason to have dragged these people down here. .... It’s bullshit. You know it and I know it. So let’s stop the nonsense.”
Stewart noted that the VCF has proven to be effective and reliable. He called Congress’ reluctance to pass the Never Forget the Heroes act an “embarrassment” for the country.
“This is your opportunity to write a final chapter for these men and women who fought for 18 years,” Stewart said in his plea to lawmakers. “They fought when nobody believed they were sick. They fought when nobody believed their sickness was caused by 9/11. ... They fought every step of the way.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) echoed Stewart’s call to action, dubbing the passage of the legislation a “moral obligation” for Congress.
“You rushed to (New York’s Twin) Towers, we’re going to help with your health, with your economic situation, with your pain and suffering,” he said at the press conference. “This is not a money bill. This is a bill about what America is all about.”
Watch the full press conference on the Never Forget the Heroes Act on Gillibrand’s Facebook page.