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WTC Fund Backlash. Vitriolic e-mails accuse victims' families of being greedy

January 26, 2002

"Every time I go on TV or I'm quoted in the press as criticizing the regulations, I get a handful of e-mails from people saying, 'Steve Push, you greedy --- ... you should rot in hell,'" he said. Push's wife, biotechnology lobbyist Lisa Raines, was on the hijacked jet that crashed into the Pentagon.

Kenneth Feinberg, the fund's special master, has estimated that average payments will be $1.65 million.

The average compensation figure, however, does not take into account the deductions of so-called "collateral offsets" such as life insurance, pension benefits and Social Security payments. According to Push and others who have analyzed the plan, those deductions are likely to greatly reduce the average payment for some families.

The backlash against victims' families also emerges in some of more than 2,000 letters and e-mails filed with the Department of Justice during a public comment period on the compensation fund.

"Mr. Feinberg, you can't give in to these greedy people," reads one message, purportedly from an ex-wife of a victim who complained that the victim's new wife would get too much money. "Enough is enough. Stick to your guns."

Another critic wrote, "It makes me sick to think that all these great men and women who were just doing their jobs are being remembered by greedy family members trying to get paid for their death."

Names aren't included on the Justice Department Web site where the comments are posted.

Push said complaints about the compensation plan by his group and others, as well as Feinberg's promotion of it, seem to have prompted the backlash.

"When people think we're going to get $1.65 million and we're still complaining, they think we must be greedy," he said. "What they don't realize is that many families are going to get much less.

"The typical victim is a widow at home with two young children who's been out of the labor market for five years," Push said. "She's going to be lucky if she has $40,000 a year to spend. Yeah, she could sell the house and move into an apartment. She could put the kids in day care and get a job. Why should she have to do that in order to subsidize the airline industry?"

Push pointed out that the compensation plan, part of an airline bailout package passed by Congress, was created largely to shield the airline industry from lawsuits.

Feinberg, who is to release the plan's final next month, said, "I think this backlash is extremely unfortunate. The families don't deserve this."

Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who has urged generous benefits for bereft spouses of trade center workers, said he, too, has received ugly messages.

Some of the mail is venomous in tone, King said.

"It's really bizarre. It's 'The hell with these people. What do they want?'" he said. "I would say that probably the tide is going against the families."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

By Stephanie Saul. Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.


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