- The House Judiciary Committee approved a bill Wednesday that would extend funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) until 2090.
- The VCF helps firefighters, first responders, and volunteers who have health issues stemming from the toxic dust and smoke they were exposed to in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.
- The move comes after Jon Stewart gave an emotional speech before a subcommittee about the urgent need to renew the fund.
- The video of Stewart’s speech went viral and many people responded by calling for a bipartisan effort to extend the fund.
House Judiciary Committee Approves Act
The House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously Wednesday to approve additional funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) through 2090.
The VCF was first created by Congress after the 9/11 attacks in 2001 to help the families of people who died or were injured. The fund ended in 2004, as planned. Then in 2010, lawmakers pushed to reauthorize the fund to help first responders, volunteers, and survivors who had spent weeks at the site of the attack inhaling toxic dust and smoke.
After reauthorization from Congress and then-President Barak Obama, the fund started processing claims from victims in 2011. Congress renewed the bill again in 2015 to extend its funding until December 2020.
Since 2011, Congress has given the fund around $7.4 billion in appropriations, but it has not been enough. In February, the fund’s administrator, Rupa Bhattacharyya, announced that the VCF did not have enough money to pay both existing and expected claims.
The newfound approval of the bill, called the Never Forget the Heroes Act, comes one day after comedian Jon Stewart spoke in front of a subcommittee to convince lawmakers to extend funding.
Jon Stewart’s Speech
Over the years, Stewart has been one of the biggest activists for the fund.
He has been quick to call out Congress for being inactive whenever the fund seemed to be at risk, and he did not hesitate to do just that in an emotional speech before the subcommittee on Tuesday.
Stewart started out his speech by criticizing the lack of congress members in attendance.
“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting health care and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” he said. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders, and in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves here to no one.”
“And you should be ashamed of yourselves for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be,” Stewart continued.
However, a spokesperson for the subcommittee later said only two representatives were missing. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-TN), the chair of the subcommittee, explained that the meeting was held in a bigger room intended for the full Judiciary Committee, so there were more empty chairs.
Stewart went on the condemn Congress for not giving enough money to the responders and for politicizing the issue.
“Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity. Time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of,” said Stewart. “Why this bill is not unanimous consent and a standalone issue is beyond my comprehension, and I have yet hear a reasonable explanation for why.”
“They responded in 5 seconds, they did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility. 18 years later, do yours.”
Stewart’s speech went viral following the hearing, with many people taking to Twitter to praise him.
Comedians Ricky Gervais and Adam DeVine applauded Stewart, while actor and activist Mark Ruffalo echoed his sentiment, writing, “Plenty of money for wars […] but when it’s time to actually do something to care for the 9/11 heroes and American’s health care…no shows.”
Stewart’s speech also evoked a strong bipartisan response. Donald Trump Jr. and conservative journalist Megyn Kelly commended his work, and conservative commentator Tomi Lahren said in a post on Twitter, “This is bigger than the partisan divide. We should ALL support this!”
On Wednesday, several firefighters and first responders who responded to the attack on the World Trade Center also praised Stewart on a Fox News segment.
The Never Forget the Heroes Act will now move to the House floor, which is expected to vote on the bill next month.
Lawmakers said they expect the bill will pass the House easily, but some are worried about its prospects in the Senate. Following the committee’s vote, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) asked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the bill to a vote as soon as possible.
“We will reach the point soon, most likely this year, when more will have died from 9/11-related illnesses than on 9/11 itself,” Schumer said. “I say to Leader McConnell: This is not politics. This is not a game. These are our heroes, American heroes, who are suffering and need our help.”
I am imploring, pleading, even begging to Leader McConnell to put the bill on the floor immediately after it passes the House,” he continued.
McConnell, for his part, has not said anything about a vote yet. When asked about the fund on Tuesday, McConnell told reporters, “I hadn’t looked at that lately. I’ll have to. We’ve always dealt with that in a compassionate way and I assume we will again.”
Dire Need for Funding
It remains unclear how much the total cost of extending the victims fund for 70 years will cost. Many hope that if the bill is passed, it will be a final fix help the heroes of 9/11 who are desperately in need of medical funding.
Under current funding levels, the VCF administrator said that all future payouts will be cut as much as 70 percent. Already, the fund has more than 19,000 additional unpaid claims.
This is a huge issue. According to CNN, VCF has identified 2,355 deaths that have been associated with 9/11-related health issues, which is nearly the same number of people who died at the World Trade Center because of the attack.
VCF also reported that as of May 2019, more than 12,500 cases of cancer have been diagnosed due to exposure to carcinogens following the attack
This is a growing problem. In July 2011, the VCF identified around 56,000 first responders, volunteers, and others with health problems from 9/11. However, by March 2019, that number had grown to more than 95,000, with nearly 500 to 900 new cases being identified each month.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (CNN) (Fox News)
Biden Policy Pushes for Electric Cars To Make Up Half of U.S. Auto Sales by 2030
While the country’s largest automakers have signed onto the plan, experts say the goal will be difficult to achieve.
Biden’s Car Emissions Plan
President Joe Biden unveiled a new multi-pronged policy Thursday aimed at reducing vehicle emissions that has been described as one of his administration’s most significant efforts to combat climate change so far.
The first part of the plan directs relevant agencies to restore and strengthen mileage standards that were implemented by former President Barack Obama but rolled back under former President Donald Trump.
The Trump administration estimated that its own standard would lead cars produced during the term of the rule to emit nearly a billion more tons of carbon dioxide and consume around 80 billion more gallons of gas over their lifetime.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation is the largest emitter of greenhouse gasses in the U.S., composing around 29% of the country’s total emissions.
As a result, the second part of Biden’s new plan aims to address a more long-term goal through an executive order that sets a new target to make electric cars half of all new vehicles sold by 2030.
A White House factsheet published Thursday morning outlined a series of proposals for the president to achieve his goal, which included:
- Installing a national network of electric vehicle charging stations.
- Implementing consumer incentives to encourage manufacturing and union jobs.
- Funding changes and expansions to domestic manufacturing supply chains.
- Developing new clean technologies.
The 2030 target is voluntary, but America’s “Big Three” automakers — Ford, GM, and Stellantis (formerly Fiat Chrysler) — issued a joint statement announcing “their shared aspiration to achieve sales of 40-50% of annual U.S. volumes of electric vehicles by 2030.”
The United Auto Workers union has also backed the plan, though it said it was more focused on ensuring its members maintained jobs than it was on setting specific goals and deadlines.
While the plan has the backing of major auto industry players, there are still many hurdles. Experts say it is impossible for electric vehicles to become half of all cars without making electric charging stations as common as gas stations.
But the bipartisan infrastructure plan that Congress and Biden have painstakingly negotiated for months only includes $7.5 billion for vehicle chargers — just half the price tag the president initially called for to build 500,000 recharging spots.
Given the stalemate in Congress, as well as the significant lobbying power of Big Oil, it is unclear how much can be achieved legislatively.
Even key members of Biden’s own party have expressed hesitancy.
For example, a budget plan recently proposed by Democrats includes provisions that would provide new tax breaks and subsidies for buying electric vehicles. Democratic leaders have said they want to pass the budget through reconciliation, meaning they only need a simple majority and thus will not require any Republican votes.
However, in order to do so, the party needs all 50 senators to agree to the package. Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), who recently said he has “grave concerns” about Biden’s desired speed to adopt electric vehicles, has already signaled that he will not support increased subsidies for the cars.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (NPR)
Biden Calls on Congress To Extend Eviction Moratorium
The move comes just two days before the federal ban is set to expire.
Eviction Freeze Set To Expire
President Joe Biden asked Congress on Thursday to extend the federal eviction moratorium for another month just two days before the ban was set to expire.
The request follows a Supreme Court decision last month, where the justices ruled the evictions freeze could stay in place until it expired on July 31. That decision was made after a group of landlords sued, arguing that the moratorium was illegal under the public health law the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had relied on to implement it.
While the court did not provide reasons for its ruling, Justice Brett Kavanaugh issued a short concurring opinion explaining that although he thought the CDC “exceeded its existing statutory authority,” he voted not to end the program because it was already set to expire in a month.
In a statement Thursday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki cited the Supreme Court decision, as well as the recent surge in COVID cases, as reasons for the decision to call on Congress.
“Given the recent spread of the delta variant, including among those Americans both most likely to face evictions and lacking vaccinations, President Biden would have strongly supported a decision by the CDC to further extend this eviction moratorium to protect renters at this moment of heightened vulnerability,” she said.
“Unfortunately, the Supreme Court has made clear that this option is no longer available.”
Delays in Relief Distribution
The move comes as the administration has struggled to distribute the nearly $47 billion in rental relief funds approved as part of two coronavirus relief packages passed in December and March, respectively.
Nearly seven months after the first round of funding was approved, the Treasury Department has only allocated $3 billion of the reserves, and just 600,000 tenants have been helped under the program.
A total of 7.4 million households are behind on rent according to the most recent data from the Census Bureau. An estimated 3.6 million of those households could face eviction in the next two months if the moratorium expires.
The distribution problems largely stem from the fact that many states and cities tasked with allocating the fund had no infrastructure to do so, causing the aid to be held up by delays, confusion, and red tape.
Some states opened portals that were immediately overwhelmed, prompting them to close off applications, while others have faced technical glitches.
According to The Washington Post, just 36 out of more than 400 states, counties, and cities that reported data to the Treasury Department were able to spend even half of the money allotted them by the end of June. Another 49 — including New York — had not spent any funds at all.
Slim Chances in Congress
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) urged her colleagues to approve an extension for the freeze Thursday night, calling it “a moral imperative” and arguing that “families must not pay the price” for the slow distribution of aid.
However, Biden’s last-minute call for Congress to act before members leave for their August recess is all but ensured to fail.
While the House Rules Committee took up a measure Thursday night that would extend the moratorium until the end of this year, the only way it could pass in the Senate would be through a procedure called unanimous consent, which can be blocked by a single dissenting vote.
Some Senate Republicans have already rejected the idea.
“There’s no way I’m going to support this. It was a bad idea in the first place,” Senator Patrick Toomey (R-Pa.) told reporters. “Owners have the right to action. They need to have recourse for the nonpayment of rent.”
With the hands of the CDC tied and Congressional action seemingly impossible, the U.S. could be facing an unprecedented evictions crisis Saturday, even though millions of Americans who will now risk losing their homes should have already received rental assistance to avert this exact situation.
See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (The New York Times) (The Associated Press)
Mississippi Asks Supreme Court To Overturn Roe v. Wade
The Supreme Court’s decision to consider Mississippi’s restrictive abortion ban already has sweeping implications for the precedents set under the landmark reproductive rights ruling, but now the state is asking the high court to go even further.
Mississippi’s Abortion Case
Mississippi filed a brief Thursday asking the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade when it hears the state’s 15-week abortion ban this fall.
After months of deliberation, the high court agreed in May to hear what will be the first abortion case the 6-to-3 conservative majority will decide.
Both a district judge and a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit had ruled that Mississippi could not enforce the 2018 law that banned nearly all abortions at 15 weeks with exceptions for only “severe fetal abnormality,” but not rape and incest.
If the Supreme Court upholds the Mississippi law, it would undo decades of precedent set under Roe in 1973 and upheld under Planned Parenthood v. Casey in 1992, where the court respectively ruled and reaffirmed that states could not ban abortion before the fetus is “viable” and can live outside the womb, which is generally around 24 to 28 weeks.
When the justices decided to hear the case, they said they would specifically examine the question of whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.”
Depending on the scope of their decision on the Mississippi law, the court’s ruling could allow other states to pass much more restrictive abortion bans without the risk of lower courts striking down those laws.
As a result, legal experts have said the case will represent the most significant ruling on reproductive rights since Casey nearly three decades ago, and the Thursday brief raises the stakes even more.
When Mississippi asked the justices to take up its case last June, the state’s attorney general, Lynn Fitch (R), explicitly stated that the petition’s questions “do not require the Court to overturn Roe or Casey.”
But that was before the court’s conservatives solidified their supermajority with the appointment of Justice Amy Coney Barrett — who personally opposes abortion — following the death of liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
New Filing Takes Aim at Roe
With the new filing, it appears that Fitch views the high court’s altered makeup as an opportunity to undermine the constitutional framework that has been in place for the better part of the last century.
“The Constitution’s text says nothing about abortion,” Fitch wrote in the brief, arguing that American society has changed so much that the previous rulings need to be reheard.
“Today, adoption is accessible and on a wide scale women attain both professional success and a rich family life, contraceptives are more available and effective, and scientific advances show that an unborn child has taken on the human form and features months before viability,” she added, claiming the power should be left to state lawmakers.
“Roe and Casey shackle states to a view of the facts that is decades out of date,” she continued. “The national fever on abortion can break only when this Court returns abortion policy to the states.”
The Center for Reproductive Rights, which represents Mississippi’s sole abortion provider in the suit against the state’s law, painted Fitch’s effort as one that will have a chilling effect on abortion rights nationwide.
“Mississippi has stunningly asked the Supreme Court to overturn Roe and every other abortion rights decision in the last five decades,” Nancy Northup, the president and CEO of the group said in a statement Thursday. “Today’s brief reveals the extreme and regressive strategy, not just of this law, but of the avalanche of abortion bans and restrictions that are being passed across the country.”
The Supreme Court has not yet said exactly when during its fall term it will hear oral arguments on the Mississippi case, but a decision is expected to come down by next June or July, as is standard.
An anticipated ruling just months before the 2022 midterms will almost certainly position abortion as a top issue at the ballot box.