WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Monday she supports legislation that would reopen the government fund for Sept. 11 victims -- a longshot proposal aimed at helping people who didn't get sick until years after the World Trade Center attacks.
During a visit to New York, Pelosi was asked if she supported a bill offered last week that includes a measure reopening the government's Sept. 11 victim compensation fund.
"I do," she replied.
Pelosi, whose support is critically important to getting bills to a vote on the House floor, quickly added that she was not committing to any particular plan, although she agrees the government must do more to provide treatment for those who remain ill as a result of their presence at ground zero.
"There are several proposals on the table -- what we want to do is bring them together and take the smartest approach to it," said Pelosi. "I think we will come up with something that the American people will know is fair, that in conscience we have a responsibility to these people, without getting into particulars."
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has argued that the fund should be reopened to help those workers who did not become sick until after 2003, when the Sept. 11 victim compensation fund stopped taking claims.
The former special master for that fund, lawyer Kenneth Feinberg, said Monday he thought a good case could be made for reopening the fund for now-sick ground zero workers because "the fund expired before they manifested any illness."
"They were shut out. There's a fairness argument that these people ought to be permitted to do what their colleagues did," said Feinberg.
Reopening the 9/11 fund has been considered particularly problematic because any such bill now would likely attract a host of amendments for aid to victims of other disasters, from terror attacks to Hurricane Katrina to tornadoes.
Last week, New York Reps. Carolyn Maloney, Jerrold Nadler, and Vito Fossella announced a proposed bill to create a long-term 9/11 health program, one that would guarantee medical monitoring for all of those with potential exposure, including schoolchildren and tourists, and pay for treatment for those who developed illness as a result of their ground zero exposure. The bill would also reopen the defunct Sept. 11 victim fund.
New York officials estimate it will cost hundreds of millions of dollars a year to care for sick ground zero workers. Any major federal program for ground zero-related illnesses would likely lower the costs incurred by the city.
The Sept. 11 victim compensation fund was created by Congress after the 2001 terror attacks to compensate those killed or injured and to protect the airline industry from financially crippling lawsuits.
The fund distributed about $7 billion in total, roughly $1 billion of which went to injury claims. Most injury claims were for respiratory problems related to breathing in the choking dust at the site, which contained asbestos and other toxic substances.