Boston compensation mission brings Feinberg back to home turf

Reuters News
Posted: May 07, 2013 5:14 PM
Boston compensation mission brings Feinberg back to home turf

By Ross Kerber

BOSTON (Reuters) - Kenneth Feinberg, America's Solomon of catastrophe compensation, spoke in Boston on Tuesday on how the city can navigate what he called the biblical choices in getting money to victims of the April 15 bombings.

He also tamped down hopes of big payouts.

"There's not enough money here to pay everybody," the Washington mediation attorney told an open meeting held at the Boston Public Library, just steps from the site of the first of two blasts that killed three people and injured 264. "Lower your expectations," he said.

Local leaders so far have collected $28 million in cash and pledges for The One Fund Boston and tapped Feinberg - a native of nearby Brockton - as its administrator. Feinberg now faces what he said were "choices that come, I think, right out of the Bible in determining who gets what."

Drawing on his experience overseeing funds that compensated victims after events such as the September 11, 2001, attacks and the theater shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Feinberg ran a gathering that was part therapy session and part wealth-management seminar.

His main goal was getting input on how he should resolve difficult questions such as whether One Fund will pay benefits to victims who require mental healthcare - as the Aurora fund did not - or whether to give rich and poor victims the same benefits. Means-testing could provide more fairness, but could also take more time, Feinberg said.

Standing outside the library along Boylston Street afterward, Feinberg said running the other funds taught him to focus on outcomes.

"You have to hold these Town Hall meetings, you have to tell people what you can do and what you can't do," he said. "People want certainty."

Feinberg has already proposed that payments be prioritized for the families of the dead and the most seriously injured. Like other professionals, he is donating his time. He said JetBlue Airways Corp Chief Executive Officer David Barger offered him and a few staffers free trips to Boston. Big corporate donors so far include Manulife Financial Corp's John Hancock unit and AT&T Inc.

Feinberg plans to distribute all the money in the fund by June 30, a goal set when he was asked by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino to take the job.

A fund organizer, Karen Kaplan, president of the Hill Holliday advertising firm in Boston, said One Fund was set up in part to avoid the compensation confusion that sprang up after the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, in December that left 20 students and six teachers dead.

Newtown officials identified more than 60 funds raising money on behalf of victims or projects after the tragedy. Families of some mass-shooting victims worried some funds were holding on to money unnecessarily and suggested creating a national fund for future incidents.

Some of those proponents praised Feinberg's Boston efforts.

"It's exactly what should happen," said Scott Larimer, whose son John died in Aurora. "You're going to use Ken Feinberg's formula for distribution. It's the money donated by the American public for sympathy and compassion and here's your money."

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Tuesday's meeting in Boston drew a number of bombing victims who thanked Feinberg for his work.

One was Wayne Gilchist of Cambridge, who showed his two heavily bandaged wrists and hands at the meeting. One was injured during the bombing and the second in a seizure he said was brought on by psychological distress after the attack.

"It's putting so much stress on me," he said. One hand was broken "because of what I saw right outside this door."

Later he repeated one of Feinberg's points, that funds should be distributed quickly.

"It's got to be in a fast manner," he said. "The families are suffering. I'm suffering."

Also at the meeting was Bentley Mattier, who said he flew back to Boston from Atlanta to help his family after an aunt lost her leg in the attack. Like Gilchrist, he said sooner is better.

"I'd like for my aunt to be compensated immediately. Those hospital bills are coming in immediately," he added.

(Reporting By Ross Kerber in Boston. Additional reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York. Editing by Andre Grenon)