Congress sends Trump permanent renewal of 9/11 responders' compensation

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday passed and sent to President Donald Trump legislation authorizing permanent benefits for police, firefighters and other first responders suffering from illnesses and injuries related to their work in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.

If Trump, as expected, signs the bill into law, the “Never Forget the Heroes Act” would end the need for first responders repeatedly lobbying Congress for additional funding.

“These people are just like veterans,” said Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer in urging the bill’s passage, adding, “9/11 seemed like a war in a time of war.”

The long-sought legislation would authorize federal funding through 2092 for an estimated 18,100 people who are likely to qualify for benefits, according to government estimates.

First responders who rushed to the site of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York following their destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, and others who worked there for months doing clean-up, were exposed to toxic chemicals despite early government statements that the site was safe.

The fund compensates individuals, or their relatives if they are deceased, for economic and other losses.

A separate healthcare fund for first responders, construction workers and other laborers, many of whom suffer from cancer, already has been made permanent.

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The House of Representatives passed the bill on July 12 by a vote of 402-12.

Just before passage by a vote of 97-2, the Senate defeated two Republican amendments that would have either capped the fund’s payouts to victims over the next 10 years or would have required reductions to other federal programs to offset the cost of the fund.

Without the legislation, victims of the attack would see reduced benefits due to a lack of funding.

Representative Carolyn Maloney, whose New York congressional district includes part of lower Manhattan close to “Ground Zero” in the Sept. 11 attacks, is the original sponsor of the legislation.

“The true twin towers of New York are the FDNY and the NYPD, and fully funding and permanently authorizing the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund is the least we can do to honor their sacrifices,” Maloney said, referring to New York City’s fire and police departments.

Altogether, 2,977 people were killed and 6,000 others injured when two hijacked airliners slammed into the World Trade Center, a third crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth crashed onto a field in western Pennsylvania.

Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Tom Brown