Cibola County Beacon
Grants, New Mexico 87020
March 3, 2000
RECA settlement funds could run short
Beacon staff report
U. S. Senator Pete Domenici today expressed his amazement that the Clinton administration has not taken action to ensure adequate funding for the program that provides compensation for miners and their families for illnesses related to uranium mining during the Cold War.
Domenici, who authored the 1990 law, that established the uranium miners compensation program today asked attorney general Janet Reno to explain why the Radiation Exposure Trust Fund could be an estimated $7.25 million short this year, possibly leaving the government unable to pay approved settlement claims past June, 2000. President Clinton had not requested a supplemental appropriation to shore up the trust fund, which pays an alarmingly high rate of lung cancer and other diseases commonly related to radiation exposure.
"The administration is being negligent in not asking for additional funding for the trust fund particularly since it acted on its own last year through regulation to expand the number of people eligible to file claims." Domenici said.
"Congress and the American people need to know why we're in this situation and how the justice department expects to resolve it. I find it troubling that not only has the administration not sought a Fiscal Year (FY) 2000 supplemental appropriation, but that its FY 2001 budget request is also insufficient to pay anticipated claims next year." Domenici asked Reno for a through report on the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act (RECA) program during a hearing of the senate to review Justice Department budget requests. The Senator said he is particularly interested in learning how the administration's expansion of the program outside congressional legislative process, has contributed to the pending settlement quandary.
Last year, Congress approved $3.2 million for the RECA trust fund, and added another $2 million to administer the radiation exposure compensation program. At the same time, an estimated $8 million was available in the trust fund from which to pay approved claims.
For FY 2001, the president has requested $13.7 million for the program, some $2.3 million less than the estimated need.
Domenici, as a member of the Commerce, Justice, State and the Judiciary appropriations Subcommittee, said he is gathering information in order to determine whether he can garner support for additional FY2000 funding in a supplemental appropriations bill that may be developed by Congress next month.
Last year, the senate passed the Domenici-cosponsored RECA amendments of 1999 (S.1515) that reforms and expands RECA. The legislation is now pending before the house of representatives. RECA is the 1990 law authored by Domenici. Since the RECA trust fund began making awards in 1992, the Justice Department has approved a total of 3175 claims valued at nearly $232 million. In New Mexico, there have been 371 claims approved with a value of nearly $37 million.
Sarah Echols, a spokesperson for Domenici's office said on Wednesday that the issue will go back to Congress for supplemental appropriation and is likely to be debated for the next few months.
Claims will continue to be processed and approved but payments are likely to be delayed until funds become available, Echols said.