WASHINGTON -- Forms were already in the mail as President Bush signed legislation Tuesday to make good on hundreds of IOUs issued to Utah residents and others suffering from illnesses caused by their role in Cold War-era nuclear weapons programs.
Payments to ailing uranium miners and those exposed to fallout from nuclear weapons tests -- or their survivors -- could be received as early as next month.
Through last week, there were 191 claimants in Utah alone -- either miners, Downwinders or their survivors -- holding IOUs worth $10 million, according to the Justice Department.
"The president's signature helps mitigate the embarrassment of Congress and the Justice Department for letting the trust fund run dry," said Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., who worked to secure the funding.
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed in 1990 to compensate victims of the Cold War nuclear weapons program or their survivors for illnesses caused by radiation.
The act provides $100,000 to uranium miners and $50,000 to "Downwinders" -- residents sickened by their exposure to radioactive fallout caused by nuclear weapons tests in Nevada.
Last year, the act was expanded to cover more people, but no new money was added. Since May 2000, qualifying claimants received letters informing them the program was out of money. Many have died while awaiting payments.
The legislation signed by Bush will cover IOUs worth an estimated $84 million. The House had resisted the funding but struck a deal with Senate negotiators last week approving the money.
Senators and representatives from several Western states had lobbied aggressively for the funding.
The Justice Department, which administers the program, sent forms Monday to the claimants who had been issued IOUs, in anticipation of Bush's action, said Charles Miller, a spokesman for the department.
A claimant requesting a direct deposit could receive the money two weeks after the Justice Department receives the completed form, Miller said. A check will take at least six weeks to process.
Bush signed the $6.5 billion spending bill at a rally before cheering American soldiers in Kosovo. The legislation includes $1.9 billion to boost pay, health care and benefits for American troops.
In Colorado, 71 claimants are owed $6.5 million. Sixty-eight claimants are owed $3.5 million in Nevada, 47 are owed $3 million in Arizona, 42 are owed $4 million in New Mexico, and 13 are owed $1 million in California. Other claimants are scattered across the country.