Some advocates for the sick have worried that the $2.78 billion appropriated by Congress will be far less than the actual losses suffered by the sick — a possibility that Birnbaum acknowledged in drafting the formula she is using to decide how much money claimants will get in the first round.
Planning for a worst-case scenario, fund officials estimated that as many as 26,475 people would be eligible for more than $8.5 billion in compensation.
If that happens, the firefighter awarded $1.5 million this week would, in the end, actually get a prorated share of only around $488,000.
“I think without question, there is not going to be enough,” said Noah Kushlefsky, a lawyer who, along with partners, is representing about 4,700 claimants. He said that he believed Congress would ultimately be asked to put more money into the fund. “There is no doubt, based on the severity of some of the injuries.”
As for the slow pace of awards so far, Kushlefsky said Birnbaum and her staff are not to blame.
He said the process of assembling the evidence showing that his clients were actually at ground zero, or were exposed to toxins, has been challenging and time-consuming. But he said the process is hitting a stage when applications should be moving much more quickly.
“I think that things are going to start taking off in the very near future,” he said, noting that some of his clients have grumbled about the slowness of the process. “All these guys have waited 11 years now, and none of them are warm and fuzzy about it.”