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Senate Passes 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund Extension, Bill Heads To President Trump

WASHINGTON (CBSNewYork) – The U.S. Senate has passed the "Never Forget the Heroes Act," which extends the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund through 2092.

The bill now heads to President Donald Trump for signature.

The House approved the bill earlier this month, but it stalled in the Senate when Republican senators Rand Paul and Mike Lee raised concerns about the cost and oversight.

Today's vote comes days after the FDNY lost its 200th member to a 9/11-related illness. Some 10,000 are sick.

The $7.4 billion fund was rapidly being used up, and administrators recently cut benefit payments by up to 70 percent.

The vote in the Senate was overwhelming, and will finally give some comfort to the brave people who came to the rescue on one of America's darkest days.

9/11 Victims' Compensation Fund Honorees
The bill for the 9/11 Victims' Compensation Fund will be renamed in memory of NYPD detective Luis Alvarez, FDNY firefighter Ray Pfeifer and NYPD detective James Zadroga. (credit: CBS2)

The families of first responders who gave their lives expressed gratitude and relief.

"I'm proud we are here today and got this bill passed," said Joe Zadroga, NYPD Det. James Zadroga's father. James Zadroga passed away in 2006.

Karen Pfeifer's husband Ray Pfeifer died of 9/11-related illness in 2017.

"And now I know Ray is looking down. God bless us all. It's finally done. Our families are going to be OK," she said.

"The government told them it was safe to breathe even though it was not," said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.).

By extending the Victim Compensation Fund to 2092, it essentially made permanent.

It would result in about $10.2 billion in additional compensation payments over 10 years, including more than $4 billion for claims already filed.

"These are the same soldiers of valor who selflessly risk their lives overseas. There was a war in the city I love, and these are brave soldiers," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Just last month, first responder Lou Alvarez spoke before Congress shortly before he died of a 9/11-related illness.

"You said you would never forget. I'm here to make sure you don't," he said.

He was joined that day by Jon Stewart, who voiced his frustration over what took so long. Today, Stewart reacted.

"There have been too many funerals, too many hospices. These families deserve better. I'm hopeful today begins the process of healing without the burden of having to advocate," Stewart said.

Web Extra: Jon Stewart On U.S. Senate Extending 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund

Senators Rand Paul of Kentucky and Mike Lee of Utah introduced amendments that would require money to pay for the fund. Both amendments were voted down.

The bill requires that victims whose compensation payments were reduced because of the fund's declining balance be made whole.

President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill Friday.

Members of the FDNY and Uniformed Firefighters Association headed to Washington, D.C. for the historic vote.

"On behalf of our firefighters and first responders that came across the nation to help us in New York City, we are urging our senators to step up and vote 'yes' for the permanent authorization of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund act," said Uniformed Fire Officers Association Vice President George Farinacci.

Last week, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said there are more than 2,000 past and present members of the department with cancer and 10,000 with other forms of 9/11-related illnesses. That's not including police officers and others.

"Over the weekend, the NYPD lost three of their members related to 9/11 disease," Fitzgerald said Monday. "This is something that will continue to happen. It's very sad."

The "Never Forget the Heroes Act" was renamed in memory of retired NYPD Det. Luis Alvarez, who passed away last month, FDNY Firefighter Ray Pfeifer, who died in 2017, and NYPD Det. James Zadroga, who died in 2006.

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