Comedian Jon Stewart scolded Congress for failing to ensure that a victims’ compensation fund, which was set up after the 9/11 attacks, never runs out of money on Tuesday.
While former tv host didn’t find support from lawmakers who ghosted the hearing, he found backing from several celebrities, and thousands of other social media users.
Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 first responders and former host of The Daily Show, pointed to the empty seats at the hearing on June 11 in Washington, D.C., for a bill that would ensure the fund pay benefits for the next 70 years. Stewart said cancer-stricken, “sick and dying” first responders and their families traveled to the Capitol for the hearing, only to find that a number of lawmakers ghosted them.
“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… Never forget their bravery… Never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.’ Well, here they are,” Stewart said as he gestured to the first responders. “And where are they?”
The collapse of the World Trade Center in September 2001 spread a thick cloud of dust and smoke over Lower Manhattan. Since then, many first responders have seen their health decline and have been diagnosed with life-threatening and expensive-to-treat illnesses.
The fund is reportedly running out of resources due to a record number of claims. In 2015, the fund was allocated approximately $7.4 billion to give out over the next five years. But as of February, over $5 billion had been spent.
The New York Daily News reported in May that awards that were pending in February were cut 50 percent and new applications have faced 70 percent cuts.
The only solution is for Congress to pass a new bill, which the likes of Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) are sponsoring.
Congress must vote on the “Never Forget The Heroes Act” to determine whether or not it will extend the fund through the fiscal year 2090.
Stewart called the lack of attendance at the hearing “an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the institution” of Congress. He appeared to be holding back tears as he delivered his speech in video streams posted by ABC News and other media outlets.
Alyssa Milano, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Katie Couric tweeted out their support for Stewart, the first responders and the compensation fund. The Daily Show retweeted coverage of the hearing from NBC News.
“The official FDNY response time to 9/11 was five seconds. Five seconds. That’s how long it took for FDNY, for NYPD, for Port Authority, for EMS to respond to an urgent need from the public. Five seconds. Hundreds died in an instant. Thousands more poured in to continue to fight,” Stewart said to lawmakers. “They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours.”