Following Tuesday's emotional testimony by cancer-stricken 9/11 first responders and comedian Jon Stewart, the House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill Wednesday to extend funding for the September 11th Victims Compensation Fund.
The measure now heads to the full House, then the Senate, and then the president's desk. If it becomes law, funding will be available until 2090.
Stewart, a longtime advocate for 9/11 responders, called out lawmakers for failing to attend a hearing on a bill to ensure the fund can pay benefits for the next 70 years. Pointing to rows of empty seats at the House Judiciary Committee hearing room, an angry Stewart said "sick and dying" first responders and their families came to Washington for the hearing, only to face a nearly deserted dais.
Lawmakers from both parties said they support the bill and were monitoring the hearing amid other congressional business, ABC New York reports.
More than 40,000 people have applied to the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which covers illnesses potentially related to being at the World Trade Center site, the Pentagon or Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after the attacks. More than $5 billion in benefits have been awarded out of the $7.4 billion fund, with about 21,000 claims pending.
Stewart and other speakers lamented the fact that nearly 18 years after the attacks, first responders and their families still have no assurance the fund will not run out of money. The Justice Department said in February that the fund is being depleted and that benefit payments are being cut by up to 70 percent.