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Fund to start paying 9/11 first responders

Checks from the World Trade Center settlement fund to thousands of Ground Zero workers who claim their health was harmed will begin to go out in 20 days, officials announced Wednesday.

The WTC Captive Insurance Co., which insured New York City and its contractors, announced the projected timetable after formal papers were signed Wednesday, finalizing the $650-million settlement.

The deal became effective in December when it was approved by more than 95 percent of the police officers, firefighters and other first responders who had filed suit in federal court in Manhattan over respiratory and other health problems they claim were caused by cleanup work after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Money from the fund will be supplemented, for many workers, by Congress' passage last month of a $4.2-billion bill providing health care and additional compensation for responders. President Barack Obama signed the so-called "Zadroga bill" earlier this week.

Under the settlement fund, workers who agreed to drop their court cases will receive sums from a few thousand dollars to more than $1 million, based on the severity of their health problems and the likelihood that they could have proved they had a connection to Ground Zero.

The initial checks that go out this month will in many cases be for $3,250 - the minimum payment offered to everyone, including claimants with a fear of getting sick because of their work at the site.

Christine LaSala, president of the federally funded insurance company, said in Wednesday's news release that lawyers still are working to iron out imperfections in the paperwork submitted by some of the 10,000 claimants, and to determine the wishes of others who have never responded.

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