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Editorial: Make the 9/11 fund permanent

It should go without saying, but it hasn’t: Those suffering physical and psychological effects from the 2001 terror attacks should have the support of a permanent September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

Apparently, this concept is somehow confusing to some elected officials, especially Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who needed the public spanking that comedian Jon Stewart administered a few weeks ago.

If anyone needs a refresher, on Sept. 11, 2001, this nation was attacked in the most brazen manner. Terrorists took control of commercial airliners and flew them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

Another plane crashed in the Pennsylvania countryside, following the brave revolt of its passengers. Nearly 3,000 people were killed. Had it not been for the bravery of first responders, an already horrific situation would have been far worse.

The House of Representatives seems to understand. It passed a bill extending the fund through 2092 with a lopsided and bipartisan vote of 402-12. All of Western New York’s federal lawmakers voted for the measure.

The Senate should follow suit, and sign onto the measure offered by Kirsten E. Gillibrand. The New York Democrat pushed for reviving the fund in 2011 and renewing it four years later. The senator now has a filibuster-proof majority to pass the fund’s permanent reauthorization.

No public tally exists of the number of Western New Yorkers who are eligible for assistance under the compensation fund. But more than 50 local people have won recognition from the State Senate for their service on and after the attacks, and many attended an April rally in Buffalo supporting a permanent fund.

The fund was re-created in 2011, eight years after it expired. It was replenished in 2015 but will run dry without congressional action. McConnell had offered no indication that he would allow a vote on a measure to extend the fund’s life. Then he engaged in a public dispute with Stewart, who is a longtime advocate for the 9/11 families. Stewart complained about McConnell’s chronic delays before he has ever acted on the fund – and even then only after intense lobbying and public shaming.

McConnell finally agreed to meet with some of the 9/11 victims and to hold a vote on the measure in August. Then he had the nerve to tell reporters, “I don’t know why (Stewart’s) all bent out of shape, but we will take care of the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund.”

It’s not uncommon for political leaders to drag their feet on some measures, but McConnell’s miserable indifference to supporting those who helped the country through its worst crisis in decades is as puzzling as it is shameful. Men and women who rushed to their country’s aid in a time of peril should know – should always have known – that the country would do the same for them.

 

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