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US senate passes bill, championed by Jon Stewart, guaranteeing funding for 9/11 victims

Comedian Jon Stewart hugs 9/11 first responder John Feal after the US Senate's passage of the 9/11 compensation fund. Source: EPA

The US Senate has passed legislation, pushed by comedian Jon Stewart, that ensures a fund for victims of the September 11 terror attacks never runs out of money.

A bill that guarantees permanent benefits for victims of the 2001 September 11 terror attacks has been passed overwhelmingly by the US Senate, following an emotional political debate over the fast-dwindling compensation fund.  

The vote came after intense lobbying from first responders, many of whom are suffering from illnesses and injuries related to their work in the aftermath of attacks.

NYPD detective Luis Alvarez, who died shortly after testifying before Congress last month, was among them.

He died of cancer, which doctors linked to the three months he spent at Ground Zero in the aftermath of the attack. 

NYPD Detective and 9/11 Responder, Luis Alvarez speaks during a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee in June.
NYPD Detective and 9/11 Responder, Luis Alvarez speaks during a hearing by the House Judiciary Committee in June.
POOL US Network Pool

He said the funding gave him a chance at fighting the illness and urged Congress not to turn their backs on others who would become sick and need financial assistance. 

"My life isn’t worth more than the next responder to get cancer," he said. 

When the vote passed 97 to 2, first responders and their families, who were sitting in the gallery, erupted into cheers and applause. 

'Never forget the heroes'

First responders and others who worked at the site for months in the aftermath of the attacks were exposed to toxic chemicals, despite initial government assurances that it was safe. 

While a billion-dollar compensation fund was set up, warnings earlier this year revealed that future payouts would be slashed because of a growing number of death and cancer claims. 

Known as the "Never Forget the Heroes Act," the bill sets out to ensure those suffering will no longer need to lobby Congress for additional funding. 

Financial assistance for the more than 18,000 people believed to qualify, is set to last through until 2092, meaning it is essentially permanent. 

Former 'Daily Show' host Jon Stewart, who championed the bill, embraces 9/11 first responder John Feal.
Former 'Daily Show' host Jon Stewart, who championed the bill, embraces 9/11 first responder John Feal.
EPA

The legislation was championed by comedian Jon Stewart. 

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, one the bill's architects, thanked former Daily Show host for his advocacy. 

"I think we can all agree I'm the real hero," Mr Stewart joked, before adding that working with the 9/11 first responders was "the honour of my life."

"We can never repay all the 9/11 community has done for our country, but we can stop penalising them," he said. 

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