The federal government's 9/11 health care fund finally gave its first payouts yesterday, bestowing awards ranging from $10,000 to $1.5 million on a group of 15 first responders. The recipients are being kept anonymous, but 14 are firefighters, with the other being a corrections officer. Most were at Ground Zero on day one, and most have respiratory illnesses, fund special master Sheila Birnbaum tells the New York Times. The biggest awards represented lost income for young firefighters who had been severely disabled.
For now, however, the fund is only giving out 10% of each award, because it's not sure how many people will ultimately file claims. With thousands eligible, the fund could theoretically be on the hook for $8.5 billion, far more than the $2.8 billion allotted to it. Birnbaum explained that while more than 16,000 had registered for the fund, the paperwork was progressing at snail-like speeds, with many lacking documentation. She's hoping giving these awards will motivate others to push forward. The fund's window is fleeting—it expires in 2016. (Read more first responders stories.)