SAN FRANCISCO, USA – On Tuesday, 11 June 2019, Jon Stewart testified in front of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties Congress in support of a reauthorising a fund. Only, he really didn’t want to be there, and he really, really didn’t want to be there with the people he was with.
“I don’t want to be here. None of these people want to be here,” Stewart told Congress.
And when he got there, at least half of the subcommittee he was speaking to weren’t even there.
“Sick and dying [the first responders] brought themselves down here to speak, to no one. Shameful, it’s an embarrassment to this country,” Jon Stewart told the half-empty subcommittee. The lawmakers shifted in their seats. “It’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on the institution and you should be ashamed of yourselves, for those who aren’t here, but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber,” Stewart said Tuesday.
Jon Stewart had gone down to Washington DC with a group of sick and dying 9/11 first responders to convince the US Congress to re-authorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund for 70 years, which compensates 9/11 first responders for their injuries and illnesses resulting from toxic exposure during 9/11.
And, it wasn’t the first time Jon Stewart, and a group of 9/11 responders, had to do this. In 2015, Stewart was in front of Congress, but he was with a mostly different group of responders. This time around, most of the first group had died from their illnesses. 4 years ago they were looking for guaranteed permanent funding, but after Republicans balked at the $7.4 billion price tag, CBS News reported, they were only awarded five years. To date, 40,000 first responders have applied for the fund, and 21,000 cases are pending, DW reported.
Jon Stewart warned that if it wasn’t re-upped permanently, in five years “more of these men and women are going to get sick and they’re going to die.” The fund is expected to run out before the 2020 deadline, as a result of so many first responders getting sick and making claims.
“There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage that did not tweet out, ‘Never forget the heroes of 9/11.’ … Well here they are,” Stewart said.
For people who may not understand US healthcare policy, I’ll help you out. This scenario is equivalent to first responders at the Grenfell Tower fire developing the worst of cancers (one person who testified was undergoing his 69th round of chemotherapy) – not being compensated for the time missed working due to their 9/11-related illnesses. While their healthcare costs are already being covered, without this fund the first responders would be receiving no income.
The subcommittee ultimately passed the bill on Wednesday reauthorizing the fund, however it will have to be scored before it can be voted on in the full House, then sent to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has dragged his feet on this bill each time it surfaced (2010 and 2015), and only acted after intense pressure and lobbying, Stewart revealed in an interview on Fox News Sunday, 16 June.
In his testimony Stewart said “why this bill isn’t unanimous consent…is beyond my comprehension.” When McConnell was asked about how the bill may fare in the Senate, he said they would deal with it as compassionately as they have in the past.
But Stewart is frustrated with lawmakers’ delays, as he made clear in his testimony, saying, “Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time.” He choked up when he added, “It’s the one thing they’re running out of.”
First responders claiming illnesses were originally told they weren’t sick. Then, they were told they were sick, but it wasn’t due to 9/11. Later, when the science was irrefutable, doctors admitted it was from 9/11, but there wasn’t money to fix it. Lawmakers claimed it was a New York issue not an issue for America. Stewart pointed out the hypocrisy of that fact, because 9/11 was touted as an attack on America in attempt to justify the billions of dollars spent on the war on Iraq, yet it wasn’t considered an attack on America when it came to paying first responders. “Al-Quaeda didn’t shout death to Tribeca, they attacked America,” Stewart said.
The official FDNY response time for 9/11 was 5 seconds. Jon Stewart reminded them of that. He passionately told Congress that “in five seconds they did their job, 18 years later, do yours.”
Madeleine Sheehan is an in-house Social Politics Correspondent and Sociologist based in San Fransisco, USA.
All opinions within the content are owned by Madeleine Sheehan.