Former “Daily Show” host Jon Stewart made headlines Tuesday for his impassioned plea for Congress to pass a bill that would extend funding for 9/11 victims and their families.
But there was another advocate for first responders who made a bold statement on the Hill that day: Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney and her firefighter’s jacket.
Fireman’s garb has become a signature accessory for the congresswoman. She wore a different jacket during a 2015 legislative battle over funding for 9/11 victims.
With its oversized proportions and unmissable coloring, it’s not a subtle look. And that’s the entire point.
“I consider it fashion with a purpose,” Maloney (D-N.Y.) told The Washington Post on Wednesday as she sat in her office between committee obligations, swaddled in the enormous black coat with neon-yellow accents.
Maloney has been wearing this custom jacket — a February gift from firefighters — to promote a bill that would for decades authorize the Sept. 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which was opened in 2011. On Wednesday, the bill cleared a major hurdle as the House Judiciary Committee voted unanimously to support it, following an emotional Tuesday hearing in which Maloney joined fellow members of the New York congressional delegation, Stewart, first responders and family members to demand its passage.
“I said, ‘I’m going to wear this until I pass the bill!’” Maloney recalled shortly after Wednesday’s vote. She has sported the jacket at a number of high-profile events: at the Capitol, on television, at news conferences and even at the Met Gala last month, where the congresswoman claims it even caught the attention of Lady Gaga. (Maloney also insists her outfit adhered to the ball’s “camp” theme.)
This is not the first time women in Congress have used their clothing to make a statement. At the 2019 State of the Union address, many of the Democratic women, including Maloney, wore white in a callback to the suffrage movement.
The curiosity inspired by the jacket “gives you a chance to explain the program, and to build public support,” Maloney said. She and her communications director, Jennifer Bell, say they have brought fellow members of Congress on board after they spotted her wearing the firefighter’s jacket in the halls of the Capitol. The bill now has more than 300 co-sponsors in the House from both sides of the aisle.
The legislation would provide desperately needed financial support to the increasing number of people who became sick from toxic materials in the wake of the attacks and the families of people who died. Without permanent reauthorization, the fund will expire in 2020 — but it may run out of money before that deadline. Claims to the Victim Compensation Fund had been surging to the point that payouts would have to be cut by at least half, and as much as 70 percent, officials said.
The $7.5 billion fund had already paid 21,000 claimants approximately $5 billion, but there were 19,000 additional unpaid claims as of February, The Post reported. Officials said they would have to pay reduced claims starting Feb. 1. Rupa Bhattacharyya, the special master overseeing the funds, called the situation “horribly unfair.”
Under the new legislation, people whose compensation was reduced would have their claims revisited.
Officially titled the “Never Forget the Heroes Act,” the bill now heads to the full House of Representatives, where passage is expected. Its fate in the Republican-controlled Senate is less certain. Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he was “imploring, pleading, even begging” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) “to put the bill on the floor immediately after it passes the House.”
Maloney remains hopeful that the bill’s bipartisan support will see it through.
She hopes Congress will pass the bill in July, and not only because temperatures are starting to climb in Washington.
“I would like to be able first and foremost to have the benefits there for the first responders, the support they so justly need,” she said. “We can never repay the debt of what they gave us.”