The government opened offices Friday for a new aid program that would give families of victims of the terrorist attacks an average of $1.65 million, a plan that some families say doesn't go far enough.
"I think it's a disgrace," said Bill Doyle, whose 25-year-old son Joseph worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in the World Trade Center. He called the average compensation figure "incredibly low."
The program, announced Thursday, is aimed at compensating victims' families for economic losses, along with pain and suffering. The Justice Department said the first partial checks could be issued before New Year's.
Assistance centers in New York and in Crystal City, Va., near the Pentagon, opened Friday afternoon.
Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Weaver, who suffered a fractured ankle, cuts and burns in the Pentagon attack, was the first to arrive at the Virginia center, 15 minutes after it opened.
When he was asked what he was hoping to get, Weaver said: "Just whatever the government sees fit that I'm due."
"I'm just lucky to be alive," he said. "The families that lost someone deserve much more than what they (government officials) are saying."
He said he was aware he was giving up his right to sue. He didn't seem concerned.
The lawyer, Kenneth Feinberg, outlined at a Justice Department news conference regulations for the compensation program, which was adopted as part of an airline assistance package approved by Congress in September.
Nearly 3,300 people died as a result of attacks by three hijacked airliners on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and in the crash of a fourth hijacked plane in Pensylvania.
The fund's size was not specified in the legislation, but Feinberg said the Congressional Budget Office had estimated it might total as much as $6 billion before other forms of compensation were deducted.
Feinberg said the program would ensure that every family that lost someone in the attacks would receive a certain minimum level of compensation from all sources.
For victims who were married or had children, the minimum payment to their representatives will be $500,000, while for those who were single, it will be $300,000. "Many claimants will receive substantially more than these minimums," Feinberg said.
The program represents an extraordinary effort by Congress to both take care of families directly affected by the attacks and protect an airline industry from potentially bankrupting lawsuits.
The formula would work like this: first the government computes the victim's salary, then adds an additional amount for pain and suffering, and then subtracts whatever life insurance, pension and government aid the family has already received. The plan does allow families to keep private charitable contributions.
For example, using the government chart, the family of a 41-year-old victim with two children earning $80,000 a year would be awarded about $1.583 million before deductions, explains CBS News Correspondent Jim Stewart. The highest any family could get would be $3.8 million.
By taking part in the program, families of victims will forfeit their rights to seek damages from any defendants, such as the airlines or the World Trade Center, he said.
"Give the program a chance. It is a very good program," Feinberg said, urging families to consult with lawyers before making their decision. "It is vastly preferable to the litigation alternative," he added.
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