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Victims' fund to increase number of people eligible and boost award amounts


WASHINGTON (AP) _ The federal fund to compensate Sept. 11 victims will cover more people and hand out larger cash awards in response to criticism from some of the families of those who died.

``Not everyone will be happy,'' said Kenneth Feinberg, the fund's administrator. ``But I hope people will realize that that this a better alternative than the courts and take advantage of it.''

The average award will grow to about $1.85 million, about $200,000 more than calculated under draft regulations from December, before subtracting for certain outside income, Feinberg said Thursday.

President Bush also said more federal aid would go to New York, above the $20 billion he had pledged. The House approved $5 billion in tax breaks to assist lower Manhattan, as well as a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits.

Families of victims have criticized the preliminary rules for the fund as too restrictive and the payouts too small. In particular, they cited the requirement, set by Congress when it created the fund, that awards deduct for the benefits families got from some public and private sources. Families feared that could leave them with little cash from the fund.

Feinberg, who has met with more than 1,000 family members, guaranteed a minimum payout of $250,000.

But some family members said they were disappointment the base figure did not increase. ``What they're really saying is that the value of a life is $250,000,'' said Carrie Lemack, whose mother died at the World Trade Center.

The final rules mean that the fund will not deduct for benefits such as Social Security death benefits for surviving spouses, workers compensation and certain pension funds. Life insurance and Social Security benefits for children still will be deducted, but not charitable contributions.

To receive an award from the fund a family must agree not to sue the airlines or other entities.
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