House passes bill to give $2.7B to nearly 6K families of first responders who died on 9/11
"This further shattered already broken families," FDNY widow Janlyn Scauso said about being barred from the fund
Kristin F. Dalton
Staten Island Advance, N.Y.
STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — Nearly 6,000 spouses and children of Sept. 11, 2001 victims are one step closer to getting compensation, a total of $2.7 billion, that's owed to them.
Direct family members of first responders who perished on Sept. 11, 2001, were wrongfully barred from receiving money owed to them from the United States Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism Fund (USVSST), and have been tirelessly advocating to write the wrong.
Rep. Nicole Malliotakis introduced the Fairness for 9/11 Families Act — legislation that would allow the USVSST to equally compensate the widows and dependent children of those lost — in August. The bill was reintroduced by Rep. Jerry Nadler and passed through the House of Representatives last week.
The Fairness for 9/11 Families Act passed 400 to 31.
Malliotakis, at the Postcards Memorial in St. George on Thursday, celebrated the passage while calling on the Senate and Sen. Majority Leader Chuck Schumer to pass the legislation in the Senate.
"This further shattered already broken families. The structure [of the original bill] is extremely inequitable," said Janlyn Scauso, whose husband Dennis, a member of the FDNY Hazmat team, died on Sept. 11.
Created in 2015, the USVSST is meant to provide compensation to American hostages and their families, as well as families of those who died on Sept.11. However, because some families received money from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF), they were precluded from receiving additional funds from the USVSST.
The exclusion from the USVSST lead to non-direct family members being eligible for compensation from the USVSST, where they often received a substantial amount more than direct family members, who were not eligible for payments from the September 11th Victim Compensation fund.
Congress corrected this injustice in 2019, through the United States Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund Clarification Act.
In 2020, Congress tasked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) with calculating a lump sum catch-up payment that would bring the direct family members who had been wrongly excluded from the VSSTF into parity with those people included in the fund when it was first created. The GAO estimated lump sum catch-up payments to 5,364 victims, spouses, and dependents would total approximately $2.7 billion.
The Fairness for 9/11 Families Act fully funds the payments and would retroactively disperse two payments already issued by the fund to nondirect family members. Between 2017 and 2020, $3.3 billion in payments were dispersed.
"The exclusion of these widows and children from the USVSST was an injustice that Congress should have never allowed to happen. For nearly six months my office has worked with victims' groups and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle to correct this, and I'm proud to see the language I introduced in August passed through the House last week," Malliotakis said.
"Yes, we're here to celebrate the passage of this bill, but we still need it to pass the Senate. We're calling on the Senate to pass this bill after so many years; it's the right thing to do to support our 9/11 families," she continued.
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Eric Bischoff, who was working as a firefighter in Midtown Manhattan on Sept. 11 and is a Uniformed Firefighters Association Staten Island Trustee, said his company lost six members.
"My core work in the union is that we don't forget our families, in fact, that's really the motivation for the work that we do. When we partner with politicians to get a greater benefit for our families, we can get tremendous outcomes like we've had here today. Mr. Schumer — let's get this bill done in the Senate. These families count on it and it's the right thing to do," Bischoff continued.
Schumer's office didn't immediately return a request for comment.
The Senate chamber has no more votes until Nov. 14.
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