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Families may get $1.65-million, official says

The Justice Department will begin taking compensation claims today for those who

Compiled from Times wires
© St. Petersburg Times
published December 21, 2001

WASHINGTON -- Families and victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks would likely become millionaires under the terms of a tentative settlement package announced Thursday by a federal mediator.

The overseer of the federal fund set up for them estimated that the fund could cost taxpayers as much as $6-billion and would provide tax-free awards, on average, of about $1.65-million for the families of those who died in the attacks.

The Justice Department will begin taking claims today and the first partial checks could be issued before New Year's.

Kenneth R. Feinberg, the special master of the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, offered the estimates as he unveiled the regulations that would guide the fund's work when it opens for business today. Those rules allow Feinberg to grant larger awards if evidence shows they are justified by "extraordinary circumstances."

Feinberg said he will seek comments from families and others on the settlement before making his proposal final in two weeks.

The likely awards by the fund, based on the economic assumptions Feinberg has adopted, range from $300,000 for an unmarried 65-year-old who earned $10,000 a year to $4.35-million for a 30-year-old who had a spouse and two children and who made $175,000 a year.

The approximately 2,000 people who were badly injured in the attacks would receive payments tailored to the severity of their injuries and the effect of those injuries on their jobs, he said.

The estimated price of the no-fault compensation fund, the first of its kind created in the aftermath of an American disaster, is considerably lower than early, unofficial legislative forecasts, in part because the number of victims has shrunk to roughly half the number officials predicted at first. Moreover, Feinberg has clearly limited how much the families of very high-income victims will be able to recover from the fund.

By law, the fund's awards must be reduced by whatever life insurance, pension payments, death benefits or government assistance that victims' families have received -- a step that could pare the public cost to roughly $4.8-billion. Charitable contributions received by the families will not be deducted from the awards, however. To seek money from the fund, a survivor must forgo any lawsuit that would seek damages as a result of the disaster.

Feinberg said he hopes every claim can be paid in full within months. But payments cannot be made until it is determined who is entitled to the money -- something that will depend on the laws of the states where the victims lived. Those laws will also determine whether same-sex partners are eligible for compensation.

Feinberg said that in determining victim payments, he will not try to distinguish between different levels of grief among the survivors.

"I will not play Solomon," he said. "I cannot make those distinctions and I will not make those distinctions. Every life is valuable."

Feinberg told the Associated Press that he doubted the rules would satisfy victims' families.

"They are just so caught up in the horror of what they've gone through that I think they have different expectations," said Feinberg, who said he has met with hundreds of victims' relatives.

Victims' families, lawyers and public officials, who have been waiting for months for some indication of how the fund will operate, gave the new rules and the projected payouts a mixed reception.

The president of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which is providing free legal help for families that file a claim with the fund, applauded the program, noting that the procedures allowed families unsatisfied with a potential award to lobby for more money.

But some victim representatives said the estimated awards were far lower than they had hoped for, particularly with regard to the compensation for pain and suffering, which they say is much lower than they might have won in court.

The fund, which makes its awards based largely on the lost earning power of those who died, is also likely to be of little satisfaction to the families of the uniformed rescuers, some 400 of whom died at the trade center. Because the families of firefighters and police officers who die in the line of duty receive generous lifetime pensions and a $250,000 federal award, it will be difficult for them to argue that they have suffered great economic damage.

And officials said Thursday that the families of the 343 firefighters who died at the World Trade Center will each receive $278,000 from a fund put together by firefighter unions.

Each family has already received $45,000 from the fund built by Uniformed Fire Fighters Local 94, Uniformed Fire Officers Local 854 and the International Association of Fire Fighters.

The fund has $111-million, much of it collected in boot drives, IAFF president Harold Schaitberger said. Other money came from corporations, retailers and other unions.

Congress on Thursday also moved to waive income taxes and provide payroll tax relief to the families of victims of the attacks.

-- Information from the New York Times, Associated Press and Washington Post was used in this report.

The Justice Department will begin taking compensation claims today for those who

lost loved ones Sept. 11.

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