By Bill Sanderson New York Post
Fifteen city workers who suffered health problems from working at Ground Zero will be the first to get payouts from a $2.8 billion 9/11 fund created by Congress two years ago.
The biggest award is $1.5 million, to a 43-year-old firefighter who had to stop working because of respiratory problems, officials of the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund said yesterday.
The minimum awards are $10,000. All are for respiratory ailments, said Sheila Birnbaum, the lawyer overseeing the fund.
Fourteen of the payees are firefighters and one worked for the city Department of Correction.
Individuals offered payouts are getting only 10 percent up front. Whether they eventually get the full amount that Birnbaum has deemed appropriate will depend on how many people file claims and whether Congress funds the entire cumulative payout.
“It’s a step in the right direction,” said John Feal, an advocate for Ground Zero workers. “There is renewed hope that those who are eligible now will be compensated in the upcoming months.”
Feal, a construction worker who lost a foot working the pile at Ground Zero, is among those seeking money from the fund.
He called the claim procedure fair and said Birnbaum “wants to compensate people. She’s going to be generous and compassionate.”
Birnbaum may want to hurry, Feal said — many Ground Zero rescuers are dying because of the illnesses they contracted.
“We lost seven people this month — five to cancer and two to respiratory illness, including one last night,” Feal said yesterday. “The bill is not going to save anybody’s life. But we can offer a little relief to these families.”
So far, 16,000 first responders have registered as potential claimants, a bit less than half the number of people ultimately expected to file claims.
Registering for the program is just a first step — few of the 16,000 who have registered so far have completed their applications, Birnbaum said.
The rules require Ground Zero responders to back their claims with extensive documentation, including proof that their illnesses arose from working at or near the site.
The awards are based on economic loss and on pain and suffering, minus pension, disability payments or other compensation that first responders have received separately from the fund.
The minimum award is $10,000. The maximum awards could be in the millions, depending on the severity of someone’s injury or illness and on whether their ailments forced them to quit working.
The awards are tax-free, and the law limits lawyers’ payments to 10 percent of the award amounts. The registration deadline is Oct. 3.
Feal and other 9/11 advocates fought for years to get Congress to pass the Zadroga bill, which reopened the September 11 compensation fund and financed research into illnesses that resulted from the terror attacks.
“It took too long, but I’m glad the funds are finally getting out the door,” said Sen. Charles Schumer, among the public officials who backed establishing the fund.