President Donald Trump signed legislation on Monday ensuring that the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund remains solvent through 2092, thereby virtually ensuring permanent financial support for first responders and their families.
"We’re gathered at the White House to honor our solemn duty to America’s best, bravest, and finest," Trump said during the signing ceremony in the White House Rose Garden.
"In the wake of the September 11th attacks, courageous Americans raced into smoke, fire, and debris in lower Manhattan, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania," the president said. "The whole world witnessed the might and resilience of our nation in the extraordinary men and women of the New York Fire Department and the New York Police Department — selfless patriots of unmatched character and devotion."
The Victim Compensation Fund was initially created in the aftermath of the al-Qaeda operated terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which killed nearly 3,000 Americans and injured more than 6,000 more.
The fund compensates individuals who suffered physical harm as a result of the attacks. It grants financial support for those who lost loved ones as a result of the attacks, as well as providing pensions for those suffering from illnesses that stem from exposure to toxic debris in the attacks' aftermath.
"The first responders from across the country rushed to New York and worked endless days and sleepless nights," Trump said. "They fought to rescue every person trapped in the rubble, and then searched for months to find the remains of the fallen."
"The love and loyalty of our 9/11 responders knew no bounds," he continued. "Today, we are deeply honored to be in the presence of more than 60 of these exceptional heroes. They answered terror with the emotional strength of true American warriors."
"You inspire all of humanity," Trump said directly to the first responders.
He also expressed his gratitude to the families of those who perished, stating that "our nation owes each of you a profound debt that no words or deeds will ever repay."
Congress passed H.R. 1327, also known as "Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act," with a vote of 97 – 2 in the Senate and 402 – 12 in the House.
More than 40,000 individuals had previously applied to receive benefits from the $7.4 billion fund. It has been rapidly depleting, reported The Capital Gazette, and as a result, administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70%.
The legislation was named after three first responders — two members of the NYPD and one member of the FDNY — all died from illnesses related to their September 11th rescue efforts.
Alvarez, a former New York City police detective, passed away from cancer in June after testifying in front of Congress to urge the bill’s passage. He was not able to see the fruits of his labor.
"Since September 11th, we have lost more than 2,000 first responders and survivors to 9/11-related cancers and illnesses," Trump said. "Currently, thousands of men and women are battling cancer and other illnesses due to 9/11."
"We pledge to stand by the families of those affected today and everyday," he added. "We will stand with you."