Feb. 25 (UPI) -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers introduced legislation Monday to fully compensate first responders and survivors experiencing illnesses related to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
The bill known as the "Never Forget the Heroes: Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act" would guarantee that first responders and other survivors would receive their full benefit from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and would make funding permanent.
"We shouldn't turn these courageous individuals into people who have to shake the couch for change," Sen. Cory Gardner, R-Colo., said. "This is about funding the Victim's Compensation Fund not for a moment, but a lifetime."
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.; Sens. Gardner and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., as well as Reps. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y.; Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. and Peter King, R-N.Y.; introduced the bicameral legislation.
Maloney noted the bill has 85 co-sponsors in the house and she expects to have 150 by the end of the week.
The legislation was introduced after reports earlier this month showed that the VCF was reducing payments by 50 percent on claims already filed and 70 percent on those filed going forward after a surge of claims in the past year.
"If we learn that more people are hurt, we don't stop and say 'too late, buddy, too late, ma'am, you got your cancer five years too late," said Schumer. "We step up to the plate. That's what America's always done. That's what America must do now."
Comedian Jon Stewart joined lawmakers at a press conference discussing the legislation on Monday, where he called Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell an "impediment" to ensuring permanent funding and balked at critics who said the bill isn't fiscally responsible.
"This is nonsense - you guys know it, I know it -- this is theater. There's no reason to have dragged these people down here, there's no reason to have these conversations," said Stewart.
He also praised President Donald Trump's Justice Department for doing an "excellent job" administering the program.
"Now it's Congress' job to fund it properly and let these people live in peace," he said.
John Feal, a 9/11 demolition supervisor, said he would "challenge every member" of Congress to support the bill.
"I'm in the mood for a fight and we're going to get a bill done this year," he said.