Many questions persist over how the Sept. 11 victims fund will be distributed

Thursday, December 20th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Much of Theresa Riccaradelli's economic future now rests with Kenneth Feinberg.

As the lawyer appointed to oversee the government's fund for victims of Sept. 11, Feinberg will ultimately have the final say in how much each family touched by the tragedy receives.

One crucial question was apparently answered Wednesday, when Sen. Charles Schumer said charitable donations would not offset government awards.

On Thursday, Feinberg was expected to lay out how the government will distribute the money to people like Riccaradelli, who is raising five children alone after losing her husband in the attacks.

``It's the first step in making some big decisions,'' Riccaradelli said.

The fund was set up in September as part of the $15 billion airline bailout bill. Its eventual size will be determined by the number of families that apply and the size of their awards.

Questions remain over several contentious issues, key among them how much money would be available for things like pain, suffering and loss of companionship.

The law establishing the fund makes clear that a portion of the award must be based on the victim's income and earning potential. That ranges from the millions of dollars earned by some bond traders to the far smaller salaries of janitors and other low-wage workers.

The ``non-economic'' portion of the assistance, which includes pain and suffering, offers more flexibility to equalize payments, Feinberg has indicated.

But a half-dozen family members who met with Feinberg as recently as this week disagreed over the figures he provided to them. For the ``non-economic'' portion of the award, the minimum ranged from $100,000 to $250,000, they said. That amount could be adjusted upward to account for dependent children, they said.

Families that opted into the government program also would receive an immediate initial payment of $50,000, the family members said Feinberg had told them.

But some said that the numbers they heard from Feinberg so far had not been encouraging and might encourage them to seek redress in the courts instead.

``If the number comes in that low I'll guarantee you that the legal system will tied up for a long time,'' said Bill Doyle, who lost his son.

The some 3,000 victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks may seek an award from the fund only if they forfeit their right to sue anyone for damages. They cannot do both.

The fund is authorized to provide compensation for personal injury or death, not to compensate for lost physical property, like businesses and inventory.

Feinberg would not comment on the issue Wednesday or discuss the cash assistance.