In a “devastating” blow to the victims of the 9/11 attacks and their families, the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund says it will be slashing its payouts to claimants by as much as 70 percent because of its rapidly depleting cash pool.
The $7.3 billion fund, which was established in 2011 to compensate victims impacted by toxic exposure at the sites of the 9/11 attacks, revealed Friday that it had just $2 billion left in its coffers. According to the fund’s administrator, Rupa Bhattacharyya, this amount will need to cover almost 20,000 currently pending claims, as well as thousands of additional claims expected to be filed before the expiration of the fund in December 2020.
To provide some perspective on how thinly spread the fund now is, Bhattacharyya noted in a statement that the VCF’s first $5 billion was divvied up between about 21,000 claims.
Because of the lack of resources, the fund said any pending claims filed before Feb. 1, 2019, would be paid out at 50 percent of their original value. Those received after this date will be paid at just 30 percent.
Bhattacharyya expressed deep regret that such reductions had to be made but said there had been no way for the fund to accurately predict how many claims it would receive.
She told NPR that the number of claims had sharply increased since 2015. She said the long latency period for some cancers may be a reason behind the surge.
“I am painfully aware of the inequity of the situation,” Bhattacharyya said in a statement posted on the fund’s website. “I also deeply regret that I could not honor my intention to spare any claim submitted prior to this announcement from any reductions made due to a determination of funding insufficiency. But the stark reality of the data leaves me no choice. If there had been a different option available to me, I assure you I would have taken it.”
9/11 victims reacted with horror to the news.
“I cried. It was devastating,” John Feal, who almost died and lost half a foot while working as a demolition supervisor at Ground Zero, told NPR. “Thousands of people are going to suffer, that are already suffering.”
“Congress continues to put deadlines in, arbitrary dates on our legislation that we now passed a couple times, but these illnesses — cancer and respiratory illnesses — they have no deadlines,” added Feal, who advocates for 9/11 victims.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have since decried the VCF’s inability to properly compensate 9/11 victims and their families ― and several have vowed to introduce legislation to replenish and extend the fund.
“We cannot turn our backs on these heroes ― not now, not ever. Remembering 9/11 should be more than a bumper sticker,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a Friday statement. “That’s why I will be reintroducing bipartisan legislation soon with Senator Cory Gardner [R-Colo.] and others that will ensure that the men and women injured by the toxins at Ground Zero are never forgotten.”
New York Reps. Pete King, a Republican, and Democrats Jerry Nadler and Carolyn Maloney said they would be introducing a bill that would “restore any cuts to awards, ensure that future eligible recipients are fully compensated, and make the VCF program permanent.”
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the first name of Rep. Pete King as Phil.