WASHINGTON — The House on Friday approved legislation to replenish a depleted federal fund to compensate emergency workers and others who became ill as a result of their work in the ruins of the World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan, extending it for the lifetime of those who were at Sept. 11’s ground zero.
The bill, passed by a lopsided bipartisan 402-12 vote, would authorize $10.2 billion for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. It comes in the face of a large uptick in medical claims from people who worked on “the pile,” as the steaming heap of steel rubble was often called by those who labored there in the months after the Sept. 11, 2001, attack. Many of them have since become gravely sick with cancer and other ailments.
Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, Democrat of New York, who has led the charge to replenish the fund, said the bill fulfilled “a moral obligation” Congress has to the Sept. 11 emergency workers, who rushed to the rubble immediately after the attacks, and others who worked there in the months that followed. The cause was championed by the comedian Jon Stewart and brought to an emotional peak by the death last month of Luis G. Alvarez, a former New York City detective and advocate for the first responders.
“It’s the least we can do as a grateful nation,” Ms. Maloney said. “They were there for us, we have to be there for them, and we have a double moral responsibility. Not only were they the veterans of the war on terror, they were told by their government that the site was safe, when it was not.”
Ms. Maloney has for months walked the halls of Congress in a black firefighter jacket with fluorescent yellow reflective stripes and her name emblazoned on the back. The jacket was given to her by emergency workers pushing for passage of the bill. “Now I can take it off,” she said.
But the bill’s path is uncertain in the Republican-led Senate, where the majority leader, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, has said he will try to bring it up but has not committed to a timetable or said whether he might seek changes.
The measure has drawn broad bipartisan backing this year after an outcry from victims and their families, a number of whom visited Capitol Hill last month along with Mr. Stewart to push for quick passage. But the fund has always drawn resistance from Senate Republicans, who tried to block it in 2011. Mr. McConnell said last month that he would seek to bring up the measure only after advocates targeted him for holding it up, with Mr. Stewart calling the majority leader “an impediment.”
“I hope deeply that none of them will ever have to come to Washington again,” Ms. Maloney said.
Time is of the essence for saving the fund. More than $5 billion of the $7.4 billion that was allocated in 2015 for the next five years has been spent; a special master administering it announced in February that payments would have to be cut in half for those who had already made claims, and by 70 percent for anyone who applied in the future.