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Explainer: What is the Never Forget the Heroes Act?

Sep 11, 2019

On July 29, President Trump signed the Never Forget the Heroes Act into law. This bill fully funds and makes permanent the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). This legislation was renamed the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act. The September 11th fund was established by the Air Transportation Safety and System Stabilization Act in the wake of the 2001 terrorist attacks in order to compensate the men and women who experienced physical harm or a personal representative of those who died in the attacks or debris removal efforts following the tragedy. The VCF was reactivated by President Obama in 2011 and reauthorized by Congress in 2015.   

Before the president signed this bill into law, the former VCF had been appropriated $7.375 billion, but there were insufficient funds to pay out claims. Federal law prohibited the VCF from expending funds beyond the appropriated amount. Thus, awards from VCF were forced to be reduced unless Congress took action. In February of this year, according to Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D–N.Y.), the VCF Special Master announced that, “due to a funding shortfall, injured and ill 9/11 responders and survivors will receive cuts to the awards that they were expecting of 50% for pending claims and 70% for future claims.” Speaker Nancy Pelosi had previously pledged to pass the bill in the House, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) told first responders in June that the upper chamber was working to renew the VCF by August. Now that the bill has become law, it extends and fully funds the VCF for victims and their families. Claims can now be filed through 2090 and will be paid out through 2092. The bill also modifies the VCF in the following ways: 

  1. to allow claims to be filed until October 2090, 
  2. to require VCF policies and procedures to be reassessed at least once every five years (currently, at least once annually), 
  3. to require claimants to be paid for the amount by which a claim was reduced on the basis of insufficient funding, 
  4. to remove the cap on noneconomic damages in certain circumstances, and 
  5. to periodically adjust the annual limit on economic loss compensation for inflation.[1]

Prior to signing the bill, President Trump offered the following remarks to an audience in the Rose Garden:

“Our nation owes each of you a profound debt that no words or deeds will ever repay. But we can and we will keep our nation's promise to you. In a few moments I will sign the 9/11 Victims Compensation Fund. This law makes permanent the financial support for families who lost precious loved ones as a result of September 11th attacks. It also provides pensions for those who are suffering from cancer and other illnesses stemming from the toxic debris they were exposed to in the aftermath of the attacks. Many of those affected were firefighters, police officers, and other first responders . . .” 

Not only should leaders of this nation seek to look after those that risked their lives that September morning, but we, as image-bearers of God, should minister to those in need.

We continue to mourn the thousands of lives lost on this generation’s day of infamy. Not only should leaders of this nation seek to look after those that risked their lives that September morning, but we, as image-bearers of God, should minister to those in need. Neighborly love is among the most important commands found in Scripture. Jesus told us that loving God and loving your neighbor is the ethic behind the entirety of God’s law (Matt. 22:34–40). 

Now, the U.S. government has ensured that the surviving victims and their families impacted by the September 11 attacks are provided care for decades. Ultimately, Christians are not only to provide for the physical needs of those in need, but are called to also point them to the Provider of our ultimate need. Thinking back on where we all were that September morning brings a variety of emotions to the surface, and perhaps more questions than answers. Tim Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City, gave these remarks while preaching at the National Cathedral to 9/11 victims’ families and national dignitaries on September 10, 2006:

But it is on the Cross that we see the ultimate wonder. On the cross we sufferers finally see, to our shock that God now knows too what it is to lose a loved one in an unjust attack. And so you see what this means? John Stott puts it this way. John Stott wrote: “I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the Cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it?” Do you see what this means? Yes, we don’t know the reason God allows evil and suffering to continue, but we know what the reason isn’t, what it can’t be. It can’t be that he doesn’t love us! It can’t be that he doesn’t care. God so loved us and hates suffering that he was willing to come down and get involved in it. And therefore the Cross is an incredibly empowering hint. Ok, it’s only a hint, but if you grasp it, it can transform you. It can give you strength.

ERLC policy intern Kiah Crider contributed to this article.