At a 4 a.m. meeting, Congress created a $15 billion airline bailout package, also known as the federal victim compensation fund.
These two aid recipients seem an unlikely duo of subjects for a piece of legislation — even in the scope of Capitol Hill dealings. Really, the title is deceptive. Only the families of victims are receiving the funding, and the airlines may be the only ones benefiting.
The fund, set to allocate more than $1 million to each family of victims in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, has generated controversy since it passed almost two weeks ago. Demands from airline executives warned they would be out of business without federal protection from private lawsuits. Victims’ families pleaded to both parties in Congress that they could find airlines to blame, and their insurance could only go so far.
This is where it gets difficult.
The estimated $15 billion price tag may be shifted to U.S. taxpayers in the wake of what is being hyped as a historic economic downturn.
Over 140 involved charities are bogged down with collecting, documenting and dividing over $675 million in donations. Another concern lies in the way these organizations are coordinating their efforts — or the lack of coordination involved.
Analysts fear this great moment of American generosity is going awry.
Families of those killed or directly injured in the attacks are already the primary beneficiaries of private donations.
Some charities and relief agencies worry some victims may go unaided due to overlapping funds.
What will happen to the sanitation worker who escaped harm or the kitchen employee at Windows on the World with a mere $15,000 insurance plan? And why are New York firefighter and police victims eligible for tax-free pensions when nothing of the like exists for paramedics?
The bickering has begun.
New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani declared he would oversee the coordination of charity funds Tuesday, just after the state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer settled into the role he volunteered for a week ago. Giuliani’s Twin Towers fund, now up to $70 million, has already brought the city officers “closer to the victims,” giving Giuliani a right to the position, spokesperson Larry Levy said. But Spitzer already proposed creating an automated list of victims with a tally of their aid. It seemed like a good plan backed by good intentions.
When asked to join, the American Red Cross, the nation’s leading relief organization, realized the flaw. President Dr. Bernadine Healy said she would never agree to share aid-seekers’ private information.
One Wisconsin Red Cross employee said the organization purposefully stays away from involvement with government funding.
“Helping victims financially is what we do all the time,” she said. “We’re the experts.”
The Red Cross has considerable weight in this issue, because they have the power to give every family of a victim up to $30,000. Private aid will also come in the form of state workers’ compensation — about $400/week and another possible $30,000 per family from the state Crime Victims’ Board.
These private contributions are still miniscule compared to the weight of the open-ended and ambiguously worded federal fund, with which they conflict.
Even the fund’s drafters said they were hasty and overlooked the role of charity funds for victims in order to help a corporate interest — the airlines. From a broader perspective, government hasn’t equally aided victims of past attacks. Maybe the bill’s ambiguity is leaving just enough room for Congress to realize their flaw and fix it.