Comedian and former host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart has become a forceful and vocal supporter of legislation that provides medical treatment for survivors of the 9/11 attacks. Tuesday morning, Stewart, flanked by those survivors, many of whom are seriously ill, testified before House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, excoriating congress for it failure to fully fund the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and make that funding permanent. The fund is running out of money if congress doesn’t pass the bill. Stewart demanded that after 18 years congress do their job, the victims did theirs.
Here is Stewart’s nine minute impassioned statement to the committee.
Earlier this year, the US government slashed payments by more than half to those who were sick and dying from the toxins released during the attacks after US officials said the 9/11 victims compensation fund was running out of money.
Those who developed health issues or did not discover illnesses until a later stage saw even larger reductions in payouts for health benefits. More than 20,000 individuals have suffered or died from cancer, breathing problems and other ailments because of the trauma inflicted on 9/11.
Stewart told lawmakers it took only five seconds for first responders in New York to arrive at the scene of the terrorist attacks and that hundreds “died in an instant”.
“There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage, that didn’t tweet out ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11’,” he said, quoting how members of Congress annually mark that day. “Never forget their bravery, never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.”
Drawing attention once more to the lack of urgency among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Stewart said: “It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not.
“Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity — time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of … This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage, and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so hard and takes so damn long.”
Stewart, who often grew emotional in his remarks, has repeatedly traveled to Washington with 9/11 victims and first responders to lobby for legislation to codify the health benefits into law. Congress authorized $7.3bn in 2015 to cover claims through the end of 2020, but funds have quickly been depleted across 20,000 people enrolled in the program.
Data released by the 9/11 fund in January showed a 235% surge in death claims compared with the end of 2015. The number of individuals suffering from cancer and filing eligible claims has also ballooned.
Stewart also took aim at those who dismiss 9/11 funding as a “New York issue”.
“Al-Qaida didn’t shout ‘death to Tribeca,’” he said. “They attacked America.
“I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I am angry and you should be too,” added Stewart, who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his statement.
“They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs [with] courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours.”
This is the full hearing with some of the most heartbreaking testimony from the first responders.
This bill should be passed as a stand alone bill by unanimous consent and funded fully with no expiration date.