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Siddiqui writes: "The former Daily Show host testified before the House judiciary committee on Tuesday alongside first responders and victims."

Jon Stewart helps Luis Alvarez, a retired Detective and 9/11 Responder with the New York Police Department. (photo: Unknown)
Jon Stewart helps Luis Alvarez, a retired Detective and 9/11 Responder with the New York Police Department. (photo: Unknown)


Jon Stewart Demands Congress Act for 9/11 Responders: 'They Did Their Jobs – Do Yours'

By Sabrina Siddiqui, Guardian UK

12 June 19


The former Daily Show host testified before the House judiciary committee on Tuesday alongside first responders and victims

on Stewart has delivered a scathing rebuke of Congress and its handling of benefits for 9/11 first responders and victims, telling US lawmakers their “shameful” inaction is “an embarrassment to the country”.

Stewart, the comedian and former host of The Daily Show, has been a forceful proponent of legislation providing federal funding for medical treatment for survivors of the 9/11 terror attacks.

Stewart testified before the House judiciary committee on Tuesday alongside first responders and victims, but only a handful of lawmakers appeared at the hearing, prompting a visibly angry Stewart to condemn their treatment of survivors.

“As I sit here today, I can’t help but think what an incredible metaphor this room is for the entire process that getting healthcare and benefits for 9/11 first responders has come to,” Stewart said. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders and in front of me a nearly empty Congress.”

“Shameful,” he said. “It’s an embarrassment to the country and it is a stain on this institution. You should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here, but you won’t be. Because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”

Earlier this year, the US government slashed payments by more than half to those who were sick and dying from the toxins released during the attacks after US officials said the 9/11 victims compensation fund was running out of money.

Those who developed health issues or did not discover illnesses until a later stage saw even larger reductions in payouts for health benefits. More than 20,000 individuals have suffered or died from cancer, breathing problems and other ailments because of the trauma inflicted on 9/11.

Stewart told lawmakers it took only five seconds for first responders in New York to arrive at the scene of the terrorist attacks and that hundreds “died in an instant”.

“There is not a person here, there is not an empty chair on that stage, that didn’t tweet out ‘never forget the heroes of 9/11’,” he said, quoting how members of Congress annually mark that day. “Never forget their bravery, never forget what they did, what they gave to this country.”

Drawing attention once more to the lack of urgency among lawmakers on Capitol Hill, Stewart said: “It would be one thing if their callous indifference and rank hypocrisy were benign, but it’s not.

“Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity — time. It’s the one thing they’re running out of … This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on that stage, and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so hard and takes so damn long.”

Stewart, who often grew emotional in his remarks, has repeatedly traveled to Washington with 9/11 victims and first responders to lobby for legislation to codify the health benefits into law. Congress authorized $7.3bn in 2015 to cover claims through the end of 2020, but funds have quickly been depleted across 20,000 people enrolled in the program.

Data released by the 9/11 fund in January showed a 235% surge in death claims compared with the end of 2015. The number of individuals suffering from cancer and filing eligible claims has also ballooned.

Stewart also took aim at those who dismiss 9/11 funding as a “New York issue”.

“Al-Qaida didn’t shout ‘death to Tribeca,’” he said. “They attacked America.

“I’m sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I am angry and you should be too,” added Stewart, who received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his statement.

“They responded in five seconds. They did their jobs [with] courage, grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours.”

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