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Jewish World Review Jan. 8, 2002 / 24 Teves, 5762

Betsy Hart

Betsy Hart
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Fed program unworthy of Sept. 11 victims -- AN outpouring freely given from American coffers for the victims of the Sept. 11 attacks, rightly viewed as an attack on all of us, is a phenomenon wholly in keeping with the American spirit of generosity.

But the federal government's compensation plan, which would entitle each family who lost a loved one in the terror assault to receive an average $1.6 million tax-free in addition to money distributed from the $1.5 billion raised in private donations, is really breathtaking. The desire to "do good" - with taxpayer money let's remember - is trumping the need to think rightly about the good that needs to be done.

Thomas Connor lost his father 27 years ago to another terrorist attack in New York City. (He was killed by Puerto Rican terrorists.) Connor wrote in the Wall Street Journal that, like the American victims of Pan Am Flight 101 and other recent terrorist assaults, his family received no federal compensation after the attack - nor is he seeking any. He just points out that the government's plan for the Trade Center families, which he correctly notes has quickly turned into an entitlement (some victims are already claiming it's "not enough"), will inevitably pit one class of victims against another. For instance, how does one justify that those who lost loved ones in the Oklahoma City bombing "only" received $100,000?

It gets worse. Those 9/11 victims who provided for their families through life insurance policies will have the amount of the life insurance deducted from the total their family receives from the government. (The same is true for pension plans.) So in effect a single-mom secretary who sacrificed to buy insurance in the case of her death is penalized for taking such responsibility, while the high-roller trader who never considered a similar move is rewarded by the government for his irresponsibility.

Meanwhile, the airlines get a huge bailout while the thousands of small business people and street vendors who survived on World Trade Center business and who have been wiped out financially by its loss get nothing from the federal compensation pie.

In other words, the government payout package is fraught with problems and inequities sure to create resentment and even rivalries between victims.

So the question needs to be asked: Just what are the government funds for anyway? To help those in need where private funds can't or won't suffice? Well that makes sense, and is truly compassionate. But that means allocating federal funds based on genuine need. A wealthy parent who lost a grown child in the attack surely doesn't require financial relief, whereas the young child of a single parent who worked at the "Windows on the World" restaurant may need a great deal.

Or is the compensation more about liability? Technically that's at least part of it. By agreeing to the federal offer, victims are forgoing their right to sue the airlines. (For what, it's not clear. The hijackers used weapons that were legal to take on-board, and had airline personnel wanted to stop the henchmen because of their looks or their suspicious behavior, they probably wouldn't have for fear of violating their "civil rights.")

Or maybe the government itself is tacitly assuming some responsibility - and maybe it is partly at fault. After all, we now know that many federal officials were warned about the nefarious activities of the hijackers, yet did nothing. But if that's the case the bureaucrats at fault should be fired if not imprisoned for criminal negligence, and to be fair the government should also pay damages to the millions of people throughout America profoundly affected by the attacks in tangible and devastating ways short of the death of a loved one.

Of course, there's always the possibility that the terror was, in the end, caused by Osama Bin Laden and his henchmen - and there just doesn't seem to be an effective way to get them to pay up right now.

In any event, the purpose of so much federal money seemingly recklessly going to the victims of Sept. 11 may really be about something on a much larger scale. Maybe deep down our culture, longing for easy answers in a "grief counselor for every tragedy" society, intends the funds to somehow fill a spiritual void, to meet a need for answers and reassurance that in the end, of course, money will never satisfy.

Whatever the motive for the stampede to guarantee this federal largesse, it's not worthy of the victims of 9/11.

JWR contributor Betsy Hart, a frequent commentator on CNN and the Fox News Channel, can be reached by clicking here.


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