House Passes 9/11 Victims Bill

The House passed legislation Friday that would give as much as $3 billion in payments to thousands of spouses and children of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks who were left out of previous compensation rounds.

The “Fairness for 9/11 Families Act” passed overwhelmingly, 400-31, in the last vote before lawmakers headed for the exits to go home and campaign before the midterm elections. It now has to win Senate approval, though that chamber has no more votes until Nov. 14.

All but one Democrat — Oregon’s Kurt Schrader, a centrist budget hawk who’s leaving the House after losing his primary in May — voted for the bill. Most Republicans backed it as well, with just 30 defections on the GOP side.

The measure’s sponsors said it would correct an injustice in the award of payments from a fund that initially had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 attacks on New York, the Pentagon and Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

In 2015, Congress enacted the Justice for United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Act, which created the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund (VSSTF) to provide compensation for individuals with terrorism judgments against designated state sponsors of terrorism.  At the time, those who had received payments from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF)—primarily victims, spouses and children—were precluded from receiving funds from the VSSTF.

Their exclusion from the fund led to a perverse result by which other family members who were not eligible for payments under the VCF could receive compensation from the VSSTF—in some cases, substantially more than what was paid out under the VCF—while victims, spouses and children were excluded from the fund, despite also having claims.

Congress corrected this injustice in 2019, through the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund Clarification Act.  A year later, in the Sudan Claims Resolution Act, Congress tasked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) with calculating a lump sum catch-up payment that would bring those who initially had been wrongly excluded from the VSSTF into parity with those individuals who had been included in the fund when it was first created.

The GAO estimated that lump sum catch-up payments to 5,364 victims, spouses, and dependents would total approximately $2.7 billion.  This legislation fully funds these payments, with the money coming from funds no longer needed to implement the Paycheck Protection Program.

“Congress has an enduring obligation to support the victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families,” said House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler who was a lead sponsor on the bill.  “Although nothing can make up for twenty years of missed birthdays, anniversaries, and memories for those who lost loved ones on September 11th, I hope that these funds can provide some measure of comfort and justice to the people whose lives were changed forever that day.”
“As we pass this legislation, we must not forget the survivors and first responders who continue to suffer the health effects of the 9/11 attacks,” said Nadler. “I will continue to fight to ensure that these people have the care they need.  We can—and we must—look after everyone who was affected that fateful day.”

 

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