- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 10, 2002

Cheri Sparacio lost her husband, Thomas, in the south tower of the World Trade Center on September 11. Mrs. Sparacio, 37, has two young children and is expecting her third. Her grief, like that of thousands of families recently shattered by terrorism, is an emotion the rest of us empathize with, surely, but fail to comprehend at its most private and painful source.

Her grievance against the U.S. government, though, is a matter of public record, and, as such, is more open. Along with 40 others who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks, Mrs. Sparacio joined several members of Congress at a New York City news conference this week to decry the federal Victim Compensation Fund. This fund, unique in American history, was established by Congress in September to "compensate" the survivors of those lost on September 11 with between $5 billion and $7 billion of taxpayer money, the idea being that they would be fairly and quickly paid without going to court.

The survivors' complaint? Some say the cash awards expected to average $1.6 million according to the formula devised by the fund's special master, Kenneth Feinberg are just plain stingy. "I'd end up with an amount that I'd have to be sick to take," Mrs. Sparacio told the New York Daily News. "The money would not secure my future or my children's futures." These days, such comments, harsh as they sound, tend to be overlooked and to elicit more or less philosophical conjecture about the difficulties in calculating a life's worth. But that's all beside the point. The real question is, did the government and by extension, taxpayers set out to "secure" anyone's future? Is that even possible? Should it be?

"On September 11, we had thousands of good people who were murdered … by Osama bin Laden," said Rep. Peter King. "It would be terrible if the families of those victims were victimized again by the regulations that are being enacted by the special master." Victimized again? "We're talking about a $250,000 cap," said Rep. Felix Grucci, referring to fund's "pain and suffering" award more, by the way, than benefits paid to families of soldiers killed in the line of duty. "You could slip and fall on the sidewalk as you walk out of here and I'm not suggesting that anybody do that but probably earn more on a slip-and-fall claim than these people will get for losing their loved ones."

Some of the time, at least, the old slip-and-fall claim slippery though it may be when some poor schmo has to take the fall involves a party guilty of negligence. Who, besides Osama bin Laden, is guilty here the United States? That would seem to be the implication of the federal fund. Is the government also culpable, then, for anthrax attacks that have taken three lives? Their next-of-kin receive no federal largesse. Nor, of course, did the families of those killed in the Oklahoma City bombing, the first World Trade Center bombing, or Pan Am Flight 103. And what about the Unabomber's victims? The list, regrettably, goes on and on. And what, dare anyone ask, about victims of future violence? Will the Victim Compensation Fund become a permanent entitlement?

Thomas Connor, who not only lost a relative on September 11 but whose father was killed by FALN terrorists in 1975, has suggested in the Wall Street Journal that, rather than "compensation," the government consider providing "compassionate aid" only to victims in need of financial aid. Such a measure, in the end, might be the best outlet for the government's best intentions.

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