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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Relatives Rally to Protest 9/11 Fund

January 18, 2002|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

NEW YORK — Angered by proposed rules governing a new federal compensation fund, about 850 relatives of those killed in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks demanded at a rally here Thursday night that the program be modified to allow more people to collect larger awards.

"Some people have described us as greedy, but we are not here tonight because we are greedy," said Anthony Gardner, head of the World Trade Center United Family Group, a band of relatives who have joined together to press their demands. "Our hope is to inform the public of the program's major deficiencies."

The protesters want Kenneth Feinberg, a special master appointed to decide how much each family gets from the U.S. Treasury, to reconsider the rules he announced before Christmas.

They want to ensure that the formula used for calculating economic loss is fair and takes into consideration the high cost of living in New York. They also want Feinberg to increase the $250,000 allotted for the pain and suffering of the victims and to make sure nobody ends up without anything.

A lot of the criticism was leveled at a rule requiring beneficiaries to sign away their rights to sue before finding out how much money they would receive.

"Where in America are families required to sign away their rights before they know what they have coming to them?" New York Gov. George Pataki, one of the speakers Thursday night, asked the crowd in a National Guard armory.

The Republican governor's remarks about the horrors suffered in the terrorist attacks stirred memories that brought tears to the eyes of many of the audience.

New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg assured the crowd that the city would not walk away from its obligations to the families.

The relatives gathered in somber, orderly queues Thursday night to sign petitions demanding changes in the rules proposed by Feinberg. Many of them scribbled down suggestions about how those changes should be worded.

The federal Victims' Compensation Fund was created by an act of Congress on Sept. 22 as part of an effort to bail out the airlines. Congress has allotted $15 billion to help the airlines; estimates were that the families would receive about $6 billion.

When he first announced the program, Feinberg estimated that the average award would be $1.6 million. But groups of victims' families have since pointed out that that figure does not include several deductions proposed by Feinberg. After calculating what they might get, some families became furious.

For example, families of rescue workers who have generous death benefits would have those benefits deducted from their awards and get nothing. Many stockbrokers who were earning high salaries would be at a disadvantage because the guidelines seem to put a cap on annual salaries at $231,000.

Many of those people also had large life insurance policies and ample pensions that would be deducted from their awards under the rules proposed by Feinberg.

Several groups of families have banded together to make sure a memorial is built at the trade center site and to help return the remains of the dead to the families.

Feinberg was appointed in late November to manage the compensation program. After consulting with many groups of families, lawyers and financiers, he announced his guidelines. He has until Tuesday to take comments. Then he is expected to modify the guidelines, probably by the end of next month, and start taking claim applications.

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