Jon Stewart may have left the Daily Show in August, but he isn’t quite done making a difference yet. With a post-9/11 bill aimed at helping First Responders who risked their lives on September 11, 2001, set to begin phasing out, the former TV host decided to help do something to change that.
The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act, named for a New York City police officer who died of a respiratory disease linked to his participation in rescue and recovery operations after the World Trade Center was attacked, came into being in 2010 after Congress was finally shamed — including by Stewart, who spent his final show of 2010 razing lawmakers for their uncaring attitude toward those responsible for dealing with the aftermath of the greatest tragedy in our nation’s history — into passing the legislation that would provide thousands of first responders with treatment for their injuries and compensation for their economic losses.
Unfortunately, the legislation is due to expire in this Congress, with the phase-out beginning next month — an issue that could leave many families without much-needed financial assistance. Stewart has joined with lawmakers and first responders who wish to avert catastrophe by reauthorizing the bill.
This time, instead of humiliating lawmakers on his show, the comedian will be taking a more direct approach. Stewart will join 100 first responders and walk the halls of Congress on September 16 to reason with an oddly-reluctant Congress in person. The Huffington Post reports:
Stewart first broached the idea with Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D – N.Y.), the 9/11 bill’s lead sponsor in the Senate. Several responders were in the audience when the senator appeared on one of Stewart’s final shows in July, said Glen Caplin, a former Gillibrand aide who is coordinating the Capitol Hill push for his new employer, the Global Strategy Group.
The last 9/11 bill, named after an NYPD detective who died after exposure to the toxic site, passed in 2010, more than nine years after the attacks, when Congress was finally cajoled into addressing the mounting problems suffered by Americans who rushed from all over the nation to help in the aftermath.
But funding for the $1.6 billion health and monitoring effort ends in October. It has enough cash on hand to keep operating for up to another year, but the resulting uncertainty could cause problems for patients and push doctors to seek more permanent work. More than 72,000 responders and survivors from every Congressional district are enrolled in health programs funded by the bill.
To make matters worse, the $2.75 billion Victims Compensation Fund — which hemorrhaged $90 million because of the “Sequester” in 2013, is set to end on October 3, 2016. Anyone diagnosed with a 9/11-related illness or cancer after that date will not be eligible for assistance.
“This is such bulls**t. It’s insane,” Stewart told Gillibrand during a Daily Show interview — and Stewart’s vow to assist in keeping these programs alive is not of small import to first responders.
“I have no role models, no heroes, but Jon Stewart comes as close as possible to that,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, a 9/11 advocacy group. “I like to think we pitched a good eight innings, and we called on Jon, who was our Mariano Rivera, to close it.”
Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act, whose purpose one can easily guess, has listed lawmakers who have no pledged their support — and it doesn’t look pretty on either side of the fence. Surprisingly Republicans, who reference 9/11 almost as much as they do Benghazi, offer little support to the reauthorization act– though Democrats do seem more willing to lend a hand in getting the bill to pass.
“Jon Stewart and our first responders shouldn’t have to be in Washington walking the halls of Congress to keep the health care program running that our heroes need and deserve,” Gillibrand told HuffPo. “Congress should do the right thing and treat our 9/11 heroes who answered the call of duty with the same dignity and respect as our veterans.”
“We’re asking for a permanent bill, but lets not kid ourselves,” Feal said of the proposed legislation. “There’s nothing permanent about 9/11 responders. We’re all going to die off.”
If you would like to help convince Congress to do the right thing, there’s an app for that. Citizens for the Extension of the James Zadroga Act allows you to search for your representatives so that you can let them know how you, as a voter, would feel if they neglected thousands and thousands of brave men and women who served our nation on September 11.
“This tool will allow 9/11 responders, survivors, their families and supporters to see where each member of Congress stands on renewing and extending the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act and whether ‘Never Forgetting 9/11′ is just a hollow political statement or something that members of Congress are in fact committed to doing,” said deputy chief of the New York City Fire Department Richie Alles when the app was introduced.
Stewart can be expected to go the long haul with this fight. Earlier this year he said that lawmakers’ seeming unwillingness to pass the bill makes him so angry he “can’t even think straight.”
“Let’s schedule a call, and let’s schedule a ritual shaming around that time,” Stewart said earlier this year. “I obviously at that point will be knee-deep in, more than likely, grain alcohol.”
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.