NEW YORK – Some relatives of Sept. 11 victims say a government program designed to help them doesn't go far enough.
On Thursday it was announced that families of the victims would receive, on average, $1.65 million from the program. The funds are meant to compensate for economic losses wrought by the disaster, as well as help relatives deal with their pain and suffering.
But many relatives believe the program is insufficient. Bill Doyle, whose 25-year-old son Joseph worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center, called the plan a "disgrace," suggesting that the average figure was "incredibly low."
For many of the families, the compensation payments would come on top of thousands of dollars they are receiving from charity groups. The amount of money they would collect from the new fund would not be affected by how much they receive from charities.
At a news conference Thursday, Kenneth Feinberg, the lawyer in charge of the fund, said it was "an unprecedented display of taxpayers' generosity." The fund was set up in September as part of a $15 billion airline bailout bill passed by Congress.
But Feinberg later told The Associated Press that he doubted the money would satisfy people who had lost a loved one. "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 spoken with hundreds of victims' relatives.
Irene Boehm, whose husband was killed in one of the towers, was skeptical that a cash award could account for her pain and suffering.
"They should have been at my house Tuesday when they came to tell me they had identified my husband's remains and then they would see that the figures for pain and suffering are ludicrous," she said. "No amount of money is ever going to replace him but my children should never have to want for anything."
Rochelle Gerlich of Monroe, Conn., was relieved to learn she would be financially secure for a while. But she said the money would do nothing to assuage the grief over the loss of her husband, Robert.
"It's not even close to ... having my husband here," she said tearfully.
The size of compensation payments would depend largely on the size of the victim's family, the victim’s age and the victim’s earnings. Survivors of a low-income, 60-year-old bachelor may receive $300,000, while those of a high-earning 35-year-old with two children could receive $3.8 million.
Life insurance and pension fund payments would bring down the amount of the awards. Citing those deductions, some said the average compensation figure is misleading.
"I am very concerned that the number that has been released has been misrepresented," said Nikki Stern, whose husband, James E. Potorti, was killed at the trade center.
More than 3,000 people were killed in the attacks at the trade center and Pentagon and in the plane crash in Pennsylvania.
Those seriously injured in the attacks are also eligible for federal compensation based on the severity of their injuries. And Congress on Thursday moved to waive income taxes and provide payroll tax relief to the families of victims.
Relatives who take compensation money would largely give up their right to sue — and some may not be willing to do that.
"Personally I think Mr. Feinberg has tied up the legal system for 10 years," Bill Doyle said. "People will file suit — including myself."
Those filing claims can receive advance payments of $50,000, or $25,000 for injured victims. Feinberg said that in cases where there is no doubt about who is entitled to the payments, the first checks could be issued within days after an application is submitted. The Justice Department will begin accepting claims Friday and the first partial checks could be issued before New Year's.
"We do not want to drag our feet with red tape and bureaucracy," Feinberg said.
He said he hopes every claim can be paid in full within months. Deciding who is entitled to the money, and determining whether same-sex partners are eligible, will depend on the laws of the states where the victims lived.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.