The death of 9/11 first responder and advocate Luis Alvarez on Saturday appeared to send the federal government a strong message.
Following the news of his death, several lawmakers called on Congress to permanently allocate money to a fund that compensates individuals with health problems related to the 2001 terrorist attacks.
“Det. Alvarez lost his fight against cancer, but his fight for 9/11 responders and survivors continues. He dedicated his life to protecting others and advocating on behalf of those ailing after the attacks. It is time for Congress to honor his sacrifice,” New York Rep. Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman, said on Twitter. Alvarez died Saturday at age 53 from complications of cancer linked to the time he spent with other first responders at Ground Zero.
A retired NYPD bomb squad detective, Alvarez testified in Washington, DC, earlier this month about his 9/11-related medical issues and appealed for Congress to replenish the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund — expected to expire by 2020.
Many lawmakers on the House panel did not show up for the Congressional hearing, sparking a fiery speech from comedian and fund proponent Jon Stewart.
New York Reps. Carolyn Maloney, who in February introduced the measure to fund the program permanently, and Pete King echoed Nadler’s call.
“Congress must honor the memory of Lou Alvarez and pass the Victims Compensation Fund without delay,” King tweeted. “Cannot allow Lou Alvarez to have died in vain.”
Rep. Mary Scanlon of Pennsylvania tweeted that “we must honor his courage and sacrifice by permanently authorizing the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund.”
All four lawmakers had been present at the House hearing for Alvarez’s testimony on June 11.
Earlier this week, a group of 9/11 first responders met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to push for its passage. Participants said McConnell committed to holding a vote.
One of the responders said he gave Alvarez’s police badge to McConnell during the meeting.
“For a New York City police officer to give up his badge, that’s like somebody donating an organ, and Luis wanted the Senate Majority Leader to understand the importance of this and to be reminded that people are sick and dying,” 9/11 first responder John Feal told CNN’s John Berman Wednesday on “New Day.”
In a statement provided by his office, McConnell said he was saddened by the news of Alvarez’s death and “looks forward to quickly addressing” the fund.
“Like many Americans, I was saddened to hear of Detective Alvarez’s passing. I was moved in meeting his colleagues earlier this week and I look forward to quickly addressing the challenges (of) the 9/11 fund,” he said.
Lawmakers and 2020 presidential hopefuls were also quick to offer condolences following the news of Alvarez’s death.
King tweeted that his thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the 9/11 hero. “Lou Alvarez personified America’s heart and soul,” he wrote.
King said he was scheduled to visit Alvarez in hospice Sunday. Alvarez entered end-of-life hospice care last week.
“We mourn the loss of Luis Alvarez, a champion for the health of 9/11 first responders, and one of the selfless men and women who searched for survivors at Ground Zero,” Sen. Bernie Sanders said on Twitter Saturday.
The Vermont Democrat added, “We must build a society where we take care of each other and treat health care as a human right.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted his condolences Saturday.
“NYPD Detective Lou Alvarez died at peace knowing his life made a difference to others and will save lives in the future,” the New York senator said. “He was a great man.”
The fund Alvarez and other responders fought for was created months after the 2001 terrorist attacks. Congress and President Barack Obama agreed in 2010 to pay medical costs for first responders who have since been diagnosed with illnesses and cancers related to breathing in the air at Ground Zero. Congress and Obama also reopened the fund and set aside $2.7 billion to pay victims. In 2012, the government determined that cancers can be compensated as part of the fund.
It wasn’t nearly enough money, however, and in 2015 Congress added $4.6 billion in funding, along with new controls and limits on some payments. The special master who administers the fund anticipates that total payouts for claims filed before the measure expires in 2020 could be far higher: $11.6 billion, if a current uptick in claims — largely caused by an increase in serious illnesses and deaths — continues.
The current proposal to permanently extend the fund would authorize it through 2089. It has plenty of support in the House, where it passed the Judiciary Committee, and McConnell indicated that Congress would address the fund.