While it is impossible to review the past year without mention of the enormous challenges presented by COVID-19, and its particularly severe impact on the 9/11 community, I am proud to report that the VCF’s work on their behalf continued with almost no disruption throughout 2020. Because this report is designed to summarize the year, it includes details of how the VCF overcame some specific impacts of COVID-19, but more importantly, it provides a comprehensive review of a very successful 2020, which ended with the VCF having communicated awards totaling nearly $7.76 billion to over 34,400 individuals over the course of its ten years in operation.
We began the year energized and inspired by the opportunities provided by the July 2019 passage of the Never Forget the Heroes: James Zadroga, Ray Pfeifer, and Luis Alvarez Permanent Authorization of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund Act (“VCF Permanent Authorization Act”). Relieved to have what we thought was a very challenging year of unprecedented change behind us, we set ambitious internal goals for 2020 and focused on what needed to happen to transition the program to reflect its new permanent status.
That transition continues apace, focused on the operational sustainability of the program, providing enhanced service to claimants that lead to timely and equitable awards, and, as always, reducing the time it takes for an award to be made. At the same time, we remain committed to enhancing our outreach efforts to ensure that every person who might be eligible for a VCF award is aware of the program and has the resources and support they need to register and file a claim. There is more information on our efforts to expand and enhance the accessibility of information about the VCF – including our newly redesigned website – in the pages ahead.
I am particularly pleased to report on our overall productivity this year. In early March, given the emergence of COVID-19, the VCF team transitioned to a nearly all-remote workforce in a matter of days, with almost no interruptions to our work. As The Year in Numbers on page five confirms, we maintained or exceeded all measures of productivity, with the exception of our Appeals process, which slowed down in our effort to protect vulnerable claimants in the New York area, but came back strong through the ingenuity of our hearings team, and the cooperation of claimants and their representatives. (See page 14 for details.)
As we look to 2021, it is worth noting that we began 2019 with great uncertainty about the future of the VCF as funds were being expended much more quickly than expected, and yet, against all odds, we ended that year with the best possible outcome. With funding assured, we began 2020 with great optimism, ready to chart a strong and sustainable course for the future of the VCF, and despite COVID-19, we have persevered. And while some uncertainty remains as we begin this New Year, I am confident that whatever comes our way, the VCF team is well-prepared and well-positioned to continue advancing our vital mission on behalf of the 9/11 community we so proudly serve.