Faced with rapidly dwindling cash reserves, the federal fund that compensates 9/11 victims and their families will be slashing payouts to sick first responders, relatives of the dead, and other individuals who suffered because of the work they did near Ground Zero, officials said on Friday.
The $7.3 billion fund was created by Congress in 2011, and has since paid out $5 billion to approximately 21,000 claimants—leaving $2.3 billion left through the end of 2020. But there remains a pending list of nearly 20,000 people who have not received any compensation, and recent months have seen a "particularly significant increase in claim filings," according to an annual status report released earlier today.
As a result, pending claims will now be paid out at 50 percent of the former value promised. Those who filed after February 1st will see their payouts decreased by 70 percent.
“We recognize that this is horribly unfair, particularly because we have spent the balance of this program paying claims at full value, and claimants who are coming in now are going to receive less," Rupa Bhattacharyya, special master of the fund, wrote Friday. “Unfortunately, the law really leaves us no choice. This is the fairest way we could come up with to do it.”
The news follows Bhattacharyya's warning in October that the fund was running out of money, and that the remaining balance “may be insufficient to compensate all claims.” That acknowledgement likely prompted another surge in filings, according Bhattacharyya. Claims made by family members of the deceased have also skyrocketed, up 200 percent since 2015.
The fund is named for NYPD Detective James Zadroga, who died from cancer in 2006 at age 34. Zadroga had worked in the rubble at Ground Zero following the attacks, and his family has long maintained that his death was caused by carcinogenic dust at the site. A third of all claims made since the previous fund expired in 2015 have been cancer-related, with 8,000 cancer claims deemed eligible by the end of last year as more first responders and Ground Zero workers die from cancer, the Daily News reports.
Lawmakers, many of whom have been shamed into reauthorizing the fund, are expected to consider new legislation that would create a more permanent solution. As of now, the fund is expected to stop taking claims in December of 2020.