"We Will Never Forget" Fund Mostly an Afterthought

Friday, June 22, 2012

Three dozen Californians lost their lives in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks that included destruction of the World Trade Center in New York. After the attacks the state set up the “California Memorial Scholarship Fund” for family of those who lost their lives, and identified 42 people who were eligible for assistance.

Only four of the 16 people who signed up before the 2005 deadline have taken advantage of the $15 million program that provides $5,000 scholarships, according to the Associated Press, whose reporters found that 13 of the 23 people it talked to who were eligible were aware of the fund’s existence. Some of the people contacted were distraught to find out the money had been available, including one former law student who had dropped out of school for financial reasons after her mother died in the attacks.

Apparently, in some cases, the state had sent letters to the parents of younger effected family members but not the adult children.

The state sent 250 letters out in 2003 notifying people of the fund, but incorrectly said the scholarships were limited to tuition costs. That was corrected when 20 more letters were sent out in 2005 to families, clarifying that the money could be used for a number of educational purposes.

The scholarship money came from funds raised through sales of special memorial license plates after legislators established the program in 2002. More than 200,000 plates, which are emblazoned with the words “We Will Never Forget,” have been sold and continue to bring in around $1.5 million a year, providing a tempting target for cash-strapped budget officials. The Schwarzenegger and Brown administrations have both borrowed from the fund to the tune of $3 million.

The board that administers the fund told the AP that it had been diligent in pursuing potential claimants. “We verify, we double verify, we check what we're doing,” spokesman Jon Meyers said. “We went above and beyond what I think is reasonable to notify people.”

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Families Say They Weren't Told of 9/11 Scholarship (by Hannah Dreier, Associated Press)

California 9/11 Memorial Fund Raided to Fill Budget Gaps (by Hannah Dreier, Associated Press)

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