Comedian Jon Stewart was presented with a coat worn by late 9/11 hero Ray Pfeifer before he criticised lawmakers for their inaction to extend the Victim Compensation Fund.
In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, up to 80,000 people, including firefighters, police officers and emergency workers, are believed to have rushed to help victims.
In doing so, the heroes were exposed to toxic debris in the air. The 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund was intended to provide medical funding for first responders until 2020, but Stewart appeared in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday (June 11) to testify about the need to reauthorise the fund through until October 1, 2090.
First responders who attended the Congressional hearing gifted Stewart with the coat as a thank you for his support. Pfeifer, who served more than 27 years with the FDNY, spent months at Ground Zero contributing to the recovery effort following the collapse of the World Trade Center.
The firefighter was diagnosed with cancer in 2009. Using a wheelchair to get around, he made repeated trips to Capitol Hill to lobby federal lawmakers to pass 9/11 health and compensation bills.
Watch Stewart’s emotional reaction here:
YOU DON’T WANT TO MISS THIS VIDEO. An emotional Jon Stewart is given the turnout coat of @FDNY legend Ray Pfeifer, who died from 9/11 related cancer. Ret #FDNY Kenny Specht makes the presentation outside a Congressional hearing room. @wcbs880 #NeverForget pic.twitter.com/WD6kW5Lvje
— Peter Haskell (@peterhaskell880) June 11, 2019
Pfeifer became friends with Stewart in 2015 but sadly passed away two years later, in 2017.
The firefighter’s coat was won at auction by John Feal, a supporter of causes that benefit 9/11 first responders. On Tuesday, Kenny Specht, a retired firefighter and friend, gave a speech in the hallway explaining Feal outbid three others in auction in order to get the jacket and present it to Stewart.
I believe everyone here in this hallway have learned brotherhood and camaraderie because we all have one mission.
We appreciate your help Jon, and this comes from John, and this comes from everybody in this hallway.
— Claire (@CalamityBear) June 12, 2019
Stewart broke down in tears at the gesture, responding:
I don’t deserve this. But I will treasure it, like I treasured Ray and our friendship. And all of you.
And we’re going to do it today. Not just for Ray. But for all you guys and the people he was fighting for.
As of September 2018, 2,000 deaths were attributed to 9/11 related illness, the BBC report. Many others are dealing with illness such as cancer as a result of the contamination.
Survivors of the attacks appeared in front of the subcommittee alongside Stewart, including Luis Alvarez, a retired NYPD detective who was about to begin his 69th round of chemotherapy for liver cancer.
Here’s the standing ovation Lou Alvarez received after testifying before Congress to #Renew911VCF. Notice lawmakers are standing too. The 52yr old retired #NYPD testified WHEN a responder gets sick shouldn’t impact his payout. Alvarez has colon cancer. @wcbs880 #NeverForget pic.twitter.com/2Qx0ox5VCz
— Peter Haskell (@peterhaskell880) June 12, 2019
The former Daily Show host Stewart spoke in front of just four subcommittee members and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler. The subcommittee is made up of 14 members, some of which arrived after Stewart’s speech.
He expressed his anger at the poor turnout:
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 down here to speak to no one. Shameful.
It’s an embarrassment to the country and a stain on this institution and you should be ashamed of yourselves, for those who aren’t here, but you won’t be because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.
The following day, at the full committee markup, lawmakers voted unanimously in favour of the bill which will extend the funding. The New York Post reports a handful of lawmakers were absent, but Nadler dismissed calls to make the committee vote a roll call vote.
In his opening statement on Wednesday, Nadler said:
That five-year reauthorization was not nearly enough. People are still getting sick as diseases like cancer emerge after long latency periods.
Those already sick are getting sicker, and tragically, many are dying and have died.
Glad the House Panel voted unanimously for the 9/11 victim fund. This was possible due to the support of the many who testified. Thank you Jon Stewart for your support of #NYC’s first responders & @NYPDCT Det. Luis Alvarez for his courage & heroism.
— NYPDCounterterrorism (@NYPDCT) June 12, 2019
The bill is sponsored by Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), who has been wearing an official FDNY jacket to raise awareness for the issue.
Speaking of the situation, she said:
I said I couldn’t take it off until we pass it, it’s getting very hot now and I’m going to be very pleased I’ll be able to take it off. I think we’ll have a bill signing.
— Carolyn B. Maloney (@CarolynBMaloney) June 9, 2019
The bill will likely need to be scored by the Congressional Budget Office before it can get a full vote in the US House of Representatives but is expected to pass as the legislation has 313 bipartisan co-sponsors.
The extended fund should account for the lifespan of all the children and adults whose health was impacted by the terrorist attacks.
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Emily Brown first began delivering important news stories aged just 13, when she launched her career with a paper round. She graduated with a BA Hons in English Language in the Media from Lancaster University, and went on to become a freelance writer and blogger. Emily contributed to The Sunday Times Travel Magazine and Student Problems before becoming a journalist at UNILAD, where she works on breaking news as well as longer form features.