The time for waiting is done. The time for action is now. Congress has argued about everything, dragged its feet on issues that really matter. It is time to act on this issue. Earlier this month, the New York Daily News reported that “steep cuts in the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund are turning out to be much worse than the 50 percent forecast earlier this year” and “in real life, some people are getting nothing.” As a native New Yorker, but more importantly as a grateful American who witnessed America’s shock, response and recovery from those horrific days, moral obligation sits heavily on me. It should on all of us.
Collectively, we owe an enormous debt to those who rushed toward the twin towers and Pentagon – many of whom paid for their selfless devotion with their lives, or continue to suffer health effects of their other-regarding acts. Congress and the president should put politics aside for a moment, and step up – together – for these 9/11 families.
In truth this is not hard. Or should not be hard. The key facts are these: The “special master” administering this 9/11 fund made clear earlier this year that the fund is being depleted faster than originally conceived. As a result the special master had to “slash pending payouts by half” and reduce response to future, causally related needs by 70 percent.
This is not the special master’s fault, nor fault of prior Congresses or presidents. But it is an immediate, morally important and real need right now – flashing red for the current Congress and president. The result, as reported, is that “for victims of the 2001 terror attacks or the surviving families of responders who have recently died” the absence of follow-thorough is real and has been a “tough blow.”
We cannot remake, revise or change the past – or alter the prior misfire on assessing the time period and severity of victim needs, but we can correct the misfire now. We can assure that desperately needed checks for medical and related needs do not become smaller and then vanish. We have a collective moral obligation – and we should see that with clarity as we approach Memorial Day.
In a world of uncertainty, awash in political rhetoric, recriminations and cross-fire, maybe we can agree on a few things. This would be one. At this time, without hesitation or political hoopla, we should step up and make this right. Because we can.
The application process for compensation is rigorous and painstaking. It's designed to prevent fraud and to try to ensure that the people who need the money the most get it. But it can take years.
The reality of New York’s “ground zero” and Pentagon memorials speak to us every time we visit – to many of us just pausing to think about the great American heart and spirit which responded heroically to that day’s unthinkable tragedies.
What should happen now is simple. Congress and the president, responding to cuts described as “shockingly deep,” should put firestorms of the present aside, to remember those real firestorms of the past.
As health costs rise in the last years of many ailments, we must not forget. As families struggle who once put us first in their lives, the time is right to make things as right as we can for them. Congress should swiftly extend and make solvent at prior levels the compensation fund, no posturing or delay. Legislation does exist to get this moving, and should go to the top of the pile. The president should agree and make his agreement known now.
The president should offer to sign the bill as soon as Congress, a Democrat-led House and Republican-led Senate can get it on his desk, then invite co-sponsors from Representatives Jerry Nadler (D-NY), Peter King (R-NY), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), to the Rose Garden for a salute to these American patriots.
We are, in the end, all Americans. While we are unfortunately divided over many issues that matter, and may stay that way for a while, we must also remember who we are at heart – and who those are who stepped into the fiery, terrifying breach for us. Now is the time to assure that what they did is never forgotten and that the practical impact is firmly addressed.
This Memorial Day, we can rise above the fray – all of us – to remember those who rose above the real chaos of another time for us. We can and should make their lives and the lives of their families a priority. And when better than now, at a time of gratitude for selfless service to our shared American ideals. Let’s encourage Congress to do this, and without delay.