"No American in this country should face financial ruin because of a health issue," Jon Stewart said Tuesday

Jon Stewart
Credit: Zach Gibson/Getty

Jon Stewart accused Congress of “ignoring” first responders whose health has been impacted by the Sept. 11, 2011 terrorist attacks.

In a fiery and tearful speech in front of a portion of the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, the comedian — along with several first responders — urged lawmakers to reauthorize funding for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund.

“No American in this country should face financial ruin because of a health issue. Certainly, 9/11 first responders shouldn’t have to decide to live or have a place to live,” said Stewart, 56.

Luis Alvarez, a retired bomb-squad detective for the New York Police Department, told the committee that he has cancer because of the fallout of the attacks.

Alvarez said he had already been through 68 rounds of chemotherapy. “Yeah, you heard me right,” he told Congress. “I will not stand by as my friends with cancer from 9/11, like me, are valued less than anyone else.”

Jon Stewart
Jon Stewart with first responders
| Credit: Zach Gibson/Getty

In recent years, more and more 9/11 first responders have been diagnosed with illnesses that have been linked to their participation in rescue and recovery efforts following the Sept. 11 attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The last effort to continue funding for the Victim Compensation Fund came in 2015 with the passing of a five-year extension. The extension was meant to last until December 2020, but the fund announced in a February statement that claims were increasing and money was running out much more quickly than anticipated.

The Never Forget the Heroes Act, introduced to the House this year by New York Rep. Carolyn Maloney, has been lauded by people on both sides of the aisle as a long-term solution to the problem, according to NPR. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee will vote on the bill, which would allow individuals to make claims until October 2089. However, there is concern that it could be blocked in the Senate, according to the New York Daily News.

“They responded in five seconds, they did their jobs. With courage grace, tenacity, humility. Eighteen years later, do yours,” Stewart told Congress.

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Stewart also voiced anger over the need to repeatedly reauthorize funding for the Sept. 11 first responders.

“This hearing should be flipped. These men and women should be up on stage and Congress should be down here answering their questions as to why this is so damn hard and takes so damn long and why no matter what they get, something is always pulled back, and they have to come back,” Steward told the members of the committee.

Design Unveiling Of 9/11 Memorial To Honor Rescue Workers
Jon Stewart attending 9/11 memorial design unveiling in New York City, May 2018
| Credit: Astrid Stawiarz/Getty

Stewart, who featured first responders and legislation to support them on television when he hosted The Daily Show on Comedy Central, said he has been met by some roadblocks while trying to protect the fund in recent years.

“I am awfully tired of hearing that 9/11 is a New York issue,” Stewart said. “Al Qaeda didn’t shout, ‘Death to Tribeca.’ They attacked America, and these men and women, and their response to it, is what brought our country back. It’s what gave a reeling nation a solid foundation to stand back upon, to remind us of why this country is great, or why this country is worth fighting for, and you are ignoring them.”

Stewart added ahead of the vote: “And you can end it tomorrow. Why this bill isn’t unanimous consent and a stand-alone issue is beyond my comprehension. And I have yet to hear a reasonable explanation for why.”