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.
Stewart said the small number of lawmakers who appeared at the hearing shows how little respect Congress has for those who responded to the attacks. "Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders; and in front of me, a almost empty Congress". Shameful! It's an embarrassment to the country and it's a stain on this institution.
Stewart, who has long used his platform to advocate on behalf of 9/11 first responders, spoke after Alvarez and began by criticizing the committee members who were not seated before him. Stewart expressed concern that such legislation like the Never Forget Act would just be punted like a "political football" and attached to riders in massive budget bills.
"Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one", Stewart said. "I'm sorry if I sound angry and undiplomatic, but I am angry, and you should be too".
Currently, more than 11,000 first responders and survivors have been diagnosed with 9/11-related cancers. He blasted Congress for their "callous indifference", "rank hypocrisy", and excuses for not providing permanent support for the fund. The fund paid out $7 billion in damages when it originally operated from 2001 to 2003, was reopened in 2011 and extended for another five years in 2015.
"Your indifference cost these men and women their most valuable commodity: time", he said later on. Alvarez told the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties that, "You all said you would never forget. It's the one thing they're running out of".
With more than 19,000 additional unpaid claims, the fund is running out of money, and Bhattacharyya, the special master, announced that pending claims, including those received before February 1, will be paid at 50 percent of their prior value. "They did their jobs with courage, grace, tenacity, humility". However, the fund has faced financial problems - specifically insufficient funds to cover claims - and it is set to expire in December 2020.
"The plain fact is that we are expending the available funds more quickly than assumed, and there are many more claims than anticipated", said Rupa Bhattacharyya, the fund's special master.
"Why this bill is not unanimous consent is beyond my comprehension", Stewart admonished. "All these empty chairs that's because it's for the full committee, not because it's disrespect or lack of attention to you".