Comedian Jon Stewart joined 9/11 first responders and lawmakers at a press conference Tuesday after the Senate voted to ensure permanent financial support for emergency responders, victims and families suffering from the effects of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks.
“This has been the honor of my life, to work with the men and women behind me,” the former “The Daily Show” host said. “They lifted this 9/11 community on their shoulders and they carried them home, and I will always be so proud to have been associated with it. We can never repay all that the 9/11 community has done for our country, but we can stop penalizing them.”
Stewart has long been involved in the effort to secure the 9/11 Victim’s Compensation Fund, most recently testifying at a House subcommittee hearing in June. He repeatedly called out politicians for halting the legislation’s progress in the weeks that followed.
In an op-ed published in the New York Daily News in February, Stewart pointed to the 45,000 people suffering from chronic health conditions resulting from the 9/11 attacks and the more than 10,000 people who were diagnosed with cancer in the aftermath.
“Today is not a celebration. It’s a deep sigh of relief,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who helped lead the bill’s passage in the Senate.
First responders and their families spoke about the emotions they felt with the passing of the bill.
“Passing this legislation — there’s no joy. There’s no comfort,” 9/11 first responder and advocate John Feal said. “Yes, I cried with Jon. But that was to exhale. That was to get 18 years of pain and suffering out.”
Joseph Zadroga — father of N.Y.P.D. detective James Zadroga, who was the first to die because of a 9/11-related illness — spoke about the effort it took to even bring the issue into the spotlight.
“Nobody wanted to talk about it. It took his death for it to come to light that people were sick, and only then did the TV channels come down, news channels come down, and took up this story,” he said.
The bill’s full name, “Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act,” honors those who were lost to 9/11-related illnesses.
“We’re here today and we got this bill passed,” Zadroga continued. “I’m proud that Jimmy’s name is on there. I’m proud that he’s got two other heroes on there with him. God knows that they belong there.”
The bill passed 97-2 in the Senate on Tuesday. It now heads to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it.
“There have been too many funerals, too many hospices,” Stewart said. “These families deserve better. I’m hopeful that today begins the process of being able to heal, without the burden of having to advocate.”
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