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Message from Special Master Sheila Birnbaum - Update on VCF Reauthorization

June 15, 2016

Dear Friends,

Since the reauthorization of the VCF in December 2015, I have been updating you on our progress and the various steps we have been taking to implement the changes required by the reauthorized statute. In several of those messages, I referred to the statutory deadline of June 15, 2016 for updating our regulations and issuing an Interim Final Rule. After working on the updated regulations for several months, and coordinating closely with the Government entities who participate in the rulemaking process, I am happy to report that the Interim Final Rule is effective as of today and has been posted on our website for public inspection and review. The rule has also been formally published in the Federal Register and the 30-day comment period has begun. Information on how to submit comments can be found in the document. By publishing the regulations as an Interim Final Rule, we can begin issuing Group B compensation decisions as soon as Group B funding becomes available, while still allowing me to carefully consider any comments received post-publication and make any necessary changes before issuing a Final Rule.

My recent messages have also included references to our work developing an updated claim form. I am very pleased to report that earlier this week, we received final approval of the form from the Office of Management and Budget (“OMB”). A sample version of the revised form was posted to our website today. The sample form cannot be submitted as a claim, but provides you with a guide you can use to understand the type of information and documents that will be needed once we begin accepting new claims. I encourage you to review the form and begin gathering the relevant information and documents so you are prepared to submit your claim when the form becomes available online and in hard copy at the end of July. For more information about the timing for submitting new claims, please see my May 24 message.

Finally, you may have noticed some changes to our website when you visited it today. This is the first in a series of updates focused on two main goals: (1) making sure the content reflects the reauthorization and the changes associated with Group B claims; and (2) simplifying the “look and feel” of the site so it is easier to navigate and find specific information. We are continuing to review all of our Frequently Asked Questions (“FAQs”) and other website materials and will be posting several sets of updates between now and the end of July when the new claim forms are released.

It has taken a tremendous amount of work to update the regulations to reflect the reauthorization law and to redesign the claim form, while at the same time continuing to implement the other changes required by the reauthorization. Below is an update on the other key activities our team has been focused on since the reauthorization.

Group A Payments

  • As of the end of the day on June 12, we have authorized the final payment on 8,930 Group A claims. This means we have less than 200 Group A claims left to be authorized for full payment. All of the remaining claims have issues preventing payment and we are working with claimants and their representatives to resolve the open issues as quickly as possible. If you have not yet received your payment and we have not contacted you or your representative about any issues preventing payment, please be patient as the Department of Justice and Treasury Department do their part to issue the payment to the designated bank account, which can take several weeks once the payment has been authorized.

  • Because all Group A payments must be authorized before we can use the existing funds to pay Group B claims, it is very important that we complete VCF activity on the Group A payments within our original timeline. As I reported in my May 24 message, if at the end of June we still have claims with unresolved issues that prevent us from making the actual payment, we will authorize the payment amount on the claim and the DOJ accounting office will place the funds into an account from which the future payment can be made. We have set June 24 as the date this accounting activity will take place. This allows us to authorize all Group A payments and reconcile the accounting of Group A funding, and confirm the availability of Group B funds in time to begin issuing Group B decisions at the end of June. If your claim has an issue preventing payment that has not been resolved by June 24, we will continue to work closely with you until the actual payment is made. However, there may be a slight delay in processing the payment as we need to confirm the final Group A accounting with the DOJ budget office before they can process the payments on these claims.

Group B Claims

  • We continue to review claims and contact claimants to request missing information, when needed. We have rendered over 2,500 Eligibility decisions since the beginning of January and have completed loss calculations for over 1,000 claims. We continue to send “Group B Complete” letters to claimants to inform them their claim has been reviewed and a determination has been made for any eligible loss. As noted in my May 24 message, we expect to begin issuing the first Group B loss determinations at the end of June, with the expectation that the first payments will be authorized in mid-August. This is earlier than our original timeline that showed beginning the payments in September. Again, this is contingent on finalizing the accounting for Group A payments and the subsequent availability of Group B funding.

  • Our overall goal is to complete the review of the majority of Group B claims and amendments submitted prior to January 29, 2016 (the date the forms were removed from the online system) prior to the release of the new claim form at the end of July.

It is personally very rewarding to be able to report that all but a few Group A claimants have been paid in full, which I hope brings some measure of comfort to the victims and their families. As I have said in previous messages, I realize no amount of money can alleviate the losses suffered on September 11, 2001, but the 9/11 community is one of great resilience, and the men and women who are working so hard to process VCF claims are proud and privileged to work with all of you.

VCF Leadership Announcement

As we reach serval important milestones today, I am also pleased to announce a key change to the VCF staff. Stefanie Langsam, who worked on the first VCF and has been a key member of our leadership team since 2011, has been appointed as a Deputy Special Master. Stefanie will focus on the operational management of the VCF and report directly to me. You can read more about Stefanie and her role on the VCF.

As always, I encourage you to call the VCF Helpline at 1-855-885-1555 with any questions you may have. For the hearing impaired, please call 1-855-885-1558 (TDD). If you are calling from outside the United States, please call 1-202-514-1100.