- The Washington Times - Friday, March 8, 2002

Almost six months after the September 11 terrorist attacks, federal officials announced yesterday that New York will receive more than $20 billion for reconstruction, while families of victims are likely to receive an average $1.8 million from a revised federal compensation fund.

"Right after the September 11th tragedy, I made a pledge to Senator Schumer and Senator Clinton, Governor Pataki, the whole delegation, that our government would commit at least $20 billion to help rebuild New York and to take care of the tragedy that befell that magnificent city," President Bush said yesterday at a Rose Garden event with New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and other top New York officials.

In addition to money already appropriated by Congress, $5.4 billion will be sent to New York, Mr. Bush said, making it "an over $20 billion commitment."

New York Gov. George E. Pataki pledged that "every nickel" will be spent "appropriately and intelligently" to revive the economy and quality of life in lower Manhattan, where hijacked planes leveled the twin towers of the World Trade Center.

Democratic Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton and Democratic Rep. Charles B. Rangel expressed their appreciation for the aid.

"I think all of us remember that famous newspaper headline back in the 1970s, when another president was asked to help New York City," Mrs. Clinton said, referring to the "Ford to City: Drop Dead" headline in the New York Daily News.

"Well, I don't write newspaper headlines," she said, "but maybe tomorrow's headline will be, 'Bush to New York: Help is on the Way.'"

"I don't think anyone can deny, not only in the United States but in the free world, that at a time that we were hit with an unimaginable attack by the evil forces that were against America and all that we stand for, we were indeed fortunate to have President Bush at the helm, at a time when America needed him the most," Mr. Rangel said.

Meanwhile, in a separate news conference at the Justice Department, Special Master Kenneth R. Feinberg laid out the final rule for the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund, which Congress created for families whose relatives were killed or severely injured in the terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Shanksville, Penn., where the hijacked airliners crashed.

Families who join the compensation program waive their right to sue the airlines or other entities for compensation.

In recent weeks, Mr. Feinberg said he listened to thousands of comments about the fund, which was opened with interim rules in December.

The final rule, released yesterday, makes changes based on some of those comments and makes the fund "even better," he said.

Key changes include:

•Requiring people with severe physical injuries to produce documents showing they sought medical help within 72 hours not within 24 hours of the tragedy.

•Awarding the spouse and children of deceased victims $100,000 apiece for noneconomic loss, instead of $50,000. (Compensation for the deceased remains $250,000).

•Removing Social Security and workers' compensation payments, savings accounts and payments made for insurance premiums, 401(k) plans and pensions as deductibles from the initial award. (Insurance payouts and other death benefits must be deducted by law.)

As a result of these changes, a family's average award, before deductions, will be $1.8 million, instead of $1.6 million, Mr. Feinberg said.

Since there is "no cap" on potential awards, some families could get multimillion dollar awards, he said. Also, except in the rarest of cases "where the family had a lot of life insurance, for instance" virtually every family should receive a minimum award of $250,000.

Justice Department officials said that at least 353 families have made claims, and families have until 2003 to enter the program before it closes.

Mr. Feinberg urged all of the 3,000 or so victims' families to apply for the tax-free funds because it is "vastly preferable to any litigation." The airlines' liability is capped at $6 billion and that must go to settle a host of claims, he said, which means "there's no money even if you win [in court]."

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