Sept. 11 widows lobby House for tax relief
First awards go out to families of officers killed in WTC
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Saying that they are in "financial limbo," several women who lost their husbands in the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York City came to Capitol Hill Wednesday to ask the House to join the Senate in providing them with tax relief.
"The reality of life is that no matter how you deal with your emotions and take care of your children and try to get on with your everyday life, it's almost impossible to do so when you don't know how you're going to pay your mortgage," said Ginny Bauer, of Rumson, New Jersey, who lost her husband David in the World Trade Center attack and is now the single mother of three children.
Meanwhile, the first federal government awards of $250,000 each have been approved for 150 families of firefighters, police and emergency medical technicians killed in the World Trade Center attack, the Justice Department announced Wednesday.
The $37.5 million in one-time, tax-exempt awards for the families of the public safety officers represents the first installment of enhanced federal payments that go to all eligible survivors of public safety officers killed in the line of duty.
Under the USA Patriot Act approved by Congress in the wake of September 11 attacks, financial awards from the previously existing Public Safety Officers Benefits Program were enhanced from $150,000 to $250,000.
"I am pleased that we are providing, as quickly as possible, a small measure of relief to the families of these heroes," said Attorney General John Ashcroft in a written statement.
The Senate this week passed the Victims of Terrorism Tax Relief Act of 2000. The legislation would waive income tax liability for 2001 and 2000 for families of September 11 victims and would refund income taxes paid in those years.
It would also refund two years worth of payroll taxes for those terrorism victims who did not have an income tax liability.
In addition, the measure would make tax free any donations to families affected by the attacks -- whether from corporations, the government, or private individuals.
The House passed a bill that does not provide as much tax relief, said Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-New Jersey.
"It would be unforgivable if a corporation, or a charity, or a church, or a family member were to provide financial help for any of these families only to have the government take a share in taxation," Torricelli said during a news conference after meeting with the widows.
Under the legislation, those who lost loved ones in the September 11 attacks would be treated the same as soldiers and diplomats.
"The crimes committed on September 11 were not intended for them individually," Torricelli said. "This is a crime against America. They were targeted because of where they live and the nationality they held just like a soldier, just like a diplomat."
Torricelli said the House version, among other things, does not forgive payroll taxes or taxes on charitable donations.
"These brave family members are here today to ask the House to cede to Senate provisions and pass this bill before Congress returns home for Christmas recess," Torricelli said. "It's not a lot to ask and it has to happen."
The Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs, which administers the death benefits program, said the approved claims given to public safety officers are the first of about 400 expected applications.
President Bush had urged the Justice Department to expedite the processing of payments to the families of those officers killed at the World Trade Center.
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