Long-overdue legislation passed by the House of Representatives today brings the immediate family members of victims killed in the September 11 terrorist attacks one step closer to justice, said Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), who debated and voted in favor of the Fairness for 9/11 Families Act (HR 8987).
The bipartisan legislation, which is fully paid for, would provide lump sum catch-up payments to immediate family members of 9/11 victims who were unjustly barred from the United States Victims of State-Sponsored Terrorism (USVSST) Fund due to a technicality. The legislation is based on a bill--HR 8667--introduced by Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY) and cosponsored by Smith and Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-NY).
"Special thanks to Congresswoman Malliotakis, whose tireless advocacy for righting this egregious wrong was instrumental in this hard-fought victory for 9/11 families," said Rep. Smith, who spoke in support of the bill on the House Floor.
"For two decades, I have worked with the "Jersey Girls'--four widows who tragically lost their husbands in the horrific attacks--to achieve justice for the victims, families, and first responders of 9/11," said Smith.
"Kathy Wisniewski, who works on my staff and lost her husband, Alan; Kristen Breitweiser; Mindy Klinberg; Lorie Van Auken; Kathy Maher and her sons Joseph and Daniel; and the next generation of 9/11 Family advocates including Angela Mistruli and Brett Eagleson who lost parents on 9/11, were the driving force in achieving this modicum of justice for thousands of 9/11 family members," Smith said.
"It is due to their determination, their strength of spirit, and their persistence that this bill is before the House today," said Smith.
In 2015, Congress created the USVSST Fund to provide compensation to Americans injured in acts of international state-sponsored terrorism.
Despite the obvious connection to the 9/11 surviving family members, a misinterpretation of the law by the Fund's Special Master unjustly barred spouses and children of 9/11 victims from participating in the fund.
In 2021, at the behest of Congress, the Government Accountability Office conducted an investigation and found 5,364 victims, spouses, and dependents were excluded from fair restitution.
Smith noted that the 9/11 Commission--of which he was the chief Republican sponsor--was the result of the work that the Jersey Girls did in walking the halls of Congress and trying to get people to support a 9/11 fund.
"Tom Kean, our former Governor, headed up that, along with Lee Hamilton--the distinguished former Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee--and what they produced after their hearings became the blueprint to protect America," Smith said.