WASHINGTON – A New York congressman accused a federal agency Friday of "incompetent, incoherent and irresponsible" handling of a stamp program to raise money for families of Sept. 11 (search) rescuers who were killed or hurt.
Rep. Gary Ackerman (search), a Democrat who represents the New York City borough of Queens, was upset over a proposed rule from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for distributing some $10.5 million raised by a special Sept. 11 stamp. The money is to go to the families of emergency workers killed or permanently disabled in the 2001 terror attacks.
The stamp, featuring the image of three firefighters raising a flag amid the devastation of ground zero, was announced with fanfare at a White House signing ceremony in November 2001.
Ackerman issued a press release Friday blasting what he said was a needlessly long delay in getting money to families. Using a pair of expletives, he blamed the delay on bureaucratic nonsense.
FEMA spokeswoman Natalie Rule said the agency is taking the final steps to distribute the money and is seeking constructive comments from the public.
"Unfortunately, the congressman does not understand the rule-making process. There is only the best of intentions here and a good faith effort. We encourage people to talk to us," said Rule.
The congressman said FEMA's planned rules would not give families enough guidance in how to submit claims for the money and would not compel the agency to handle claims in a timely manner.
Asked about the harsh language, he said he "just wanted to point out the difference between plain talk and bureaucracy."
Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (search), D-N.Y., offered a more muted response, saying she would review FEMA's rule.
"While I am glad that FEMA has finally come up with a plan, it is well past time to get this money out to our 9/11 heroes," she said.
The 9/11 Heroes Stamp Act, passed in 2001, established a "semipostal" stamp, and the Postal Service sold about 133 million between 2002 and 2004.
The stamp sold for 45 cents, eight cents above the normal cost of a first class stamp, with the extra money going to the fund.