WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., along with Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., introduced language this week to make improvements to the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund to allow compensation to be delivered in a timely and judicious manner.
The measure will expand eligibility to access the fund, which receives no taxpayer dollars and is funded through penalties imposed on violators of U.S. sanctions on state sponsors of terrorism such as Iran, to spouses and children of 9/11 victims and to a group of victims of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis who were previously ineligible, among other important updates. The bipartisan language is included in the short-term spending bill that will be considered by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate this week.
“It was a special day in 2015 to be able to deliver the news to the victims of the Iran hostage crisis that they would finally be able to receive compensation for the harm and torture they endured more than 35 years after their release,” said Isakson. “Since that time, we’ve worked closely with the Department of Justice to ensure this program was being administered as Congress intended. When we learned there was an issue that needed to be addressed, we jumped to action to ensure all victims of terrorism receive the compensation they deserve. I’m grateful to Leader Schumer and Chairman Graham for coming together on this bipartisan solution.”
“By working to ensure 9/11 widows and children gain access to the special terror victims fund, many families will now rest a little easier,” said Schumer. “So many New Yorkers continue to bear the personal and financial burdens of the 9/11 attacks every single day. For widows and kids, just compensation will never replace the loved one they lost, but it provides some financial stability for those who had their lives turned upside down by helping to pay for college, buy a home, and all the things these courageous Americans would have done for their families.”
The changes to the fund seek to establish fairness and equity for victims of these horrific acts. Specifically, the legislation accomplishes the following goals:
- Clarifying that widows and children of 9/11 terror attack victims are eligible to be paid by the fund as well as a small group of Iran hostages who were previously unable to access the fund.
- Ensuring that all eligible claimants are compensated more quickly and at higher rates by dividing the fund in half between 9/11 and non-9/11 claimants, such as the Iran hostages.
- Re-opening the application period for the next award distribution so that newly eligible claimants do not miss out on any further compensation.
- Requiring the Department of Justice, responsible for implementing the fund, to issue the next payment 180 days after enactment.
- Extending the fund for four additional years to guarantee more compensation to victims. It will now expire in 2030.
- Increasing the cap on the funds assessed from sanction violations, which sustain the fund, to grow the overall compensation available to claimants.
On Nov. 4, 1979, Iranian radicals stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, Iran, and took more than 60 Americans hostage. Many of the hostages were subjected to physical and emotional abuse while held captive for 444 days. The former hostages sought to collect damages in court, but their efforts were blocked by a provision within the Algiers Accords, the deal brokered between the Carter administration and Iran to release the hostages, which prohibited the hostages from suing Iran.
In 2015, after years of work on behalf of the American victims of the Iran hostage crisis, Isakson was successful in securing their long overdue compensation through the creation of the U.S. Victims of State Sponsored Terrorism Fund. A provision in the 2015 omnibus appropriations package that was signed into law allowed for compensation of the American victims of the 1979 Iran hostage crisis using money collected from violations of sanctions against Iran and other state sponsors of terror.
Isakson has been a champion for the victims’ right to compensation and sought to make improvements to the fund after learning of recent implementation challenges.
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