By Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Calling emergency first responders “heroes,” U.S. President Donald Trump on Monday signed into law a measure authorizing permanent benefits for police, firefighters and others suffering from illnesses connected to their work reacting to the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks.
The legislation, known as the “Never Forget the Heroes Act,” approves federal funding through 2092 for an estimated 18,100 people who are likely to qualify for benefits, according to government estimates.
First responders who rushed to the site of the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York following their destruction in the Sept. 11 hijacked plane attacks, and others who worked for months cleaning up, were exposed to toxic chemicals despite early government statements that the site was safe.
The fund compensates those people, or their relatives if they have since died, for economic and other losses. Trump hailed the men and women who rushed to the site in hopes of rescuing survivors and finding remains of victims.
“Today we come together as one nation to support our September 11 heroes, to care for their families, and to renew our eternal vow: never, ever forget,” Trump told a crowd at a ceremony in the White House Rose Garden, which he said included more than 60 of the first responders.
Without the legislation, passed in the U.S. Senate last Tuesday, victims would have seen reduced benefits because of a lack of funding.
The attacks on the United States using four hijacked planes killed more than 2,900 people and injured over 6,000. Of those, more than 2,600 people were killed in New York.
Former New York businessman Trump said he visited the World Trade Center site in the aftermath.
“I was down there also, but I’m not considering myself a first responder, but I was down there,” Trump said.
The remark drew the ire of some Twitter users who recounted Trump’s comments at the time on the towers’ destruction, including one on WWOR-TV about a 72-story building he said he owned in lower Manhattan – “and now it’s the tallest.”
Lawmakers attended the ceremony along with former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, who was in office at the time of the attacks and was praised for his leadership then. Giuliani is now an attorney for Trump.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Richard Cowan; editing by Grant McCool)