By DAVE ALTIMARI, firstname.lastname@example.org
The Hartford Courant
11:20 PM EDT, April 21, 2013
More than a month after legislators announced the establishment of a fund to help first responders to the Dec. 14 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, just less than $22,000 has been donated by the private companies that pledged to sustain it.
As of Thursday, six donations from private companies have been made to the Sandy Hook Workers Assistance Fund and Program, according to David Barrett, a spokesman for State Treasurer Denise Nappier.
That is a far cry from the money that will likely be needed to pay medical and mental health treatment costs for as many as 300 state and local employees who are considered first responders.
So far there has been no need for the fund to pay any mental health counseling bills for first responders suffering from post traumatic stress syndrome after working at the horrific scene of the Dec. 14 slayings in which 26 people were killed, including 20 first graders gunned down in their classrooms by Adam Lanza.
First responders are supposed to apply to the state Office of Victim Services to make sure they are eligible for the funding. Then they submit medical bills to that office, which approves them and sends them to the treasurer to pay the bills. The fund also will cover lost wages as well as the cost of certain medications, treatments and insurance co-pays.
So far there have been 27 applications submitted to the office of victim's services, according to director Linda J. Cimino. No bills have been submitted. Cimino said that during discussions about the fund her office was told that as many as 300 people could be applying for benefits.
Many of the first responders, particularly the Newtown police officers who first went into the building and found the children, are still receiving coverage from the town which agreed to cover any mental health costs for six months.
Under the law that was passed on March 7, the assistance fund also will cover mental health costs for teachers from the Sandy Hook Elementary School, state police officers, town dispatchers, firefighters and other emergency medical responders.
Eligible personnel have until June of 2014 to apply for benefits, Cimino said. The fund will remain open until Aug. 30, 2015.
"It's too early to worry about funding the way the bill is crafted provides a long deadline for people to apply for benefits,'' Cimino said.
A legislative spokesman said corporations have pledged about $120,000 for the fund. In addition Public Service Announcements about the fund and how to donate to it are expected to start running soon on nearly all of Connecticut's cable networks through the New England Cable & Telecommunications Association.
Some of the more than 70 charities that have been collecting money since the murders were doing so to benefit the Newtown Police Union in particular. It is unclear if some of that money is included in the donations already made to the fund or has already been used.
Newtown second selectmen Will Rodgers, who is an ex-officio member of the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation Inc. which is now overseeing the largest fund with more than 411 million in it, said that group has been aware for a few weeks that the fund that was supposed to assist the first responders had little money in it.
"I have no doubt that this entity will eventually be asking the Foundation for help since it doesn't seem to have anywhere near the money that will be needed," Rodgers said. "That is one of the reasons why we have wanted to maintain as much money in our fund as possible to be prepared for unforeseen costs."
Lawmakers held a big press conference on March 7 heralding the establishment of the special fund. There was legislation proposed to change workmen's compensation laws to allow PTSD to be covered, but despite the horrific nature of the Newtown murders the bill was struggling to get passed.
So instead legislative leaders approached private companies about donating to a special fund that while it would be overseen by the state would not be funded using taxpayers money.
Officials from several companies, from Northeast Utilities to the World Wrestling Entertainment, attended the press conference because legislators said they had already pledged significant money to seed the fund.
"I know there was some money promised from corporations so maybe it just hasn't gotten there yet,'' said state Rep. Steve Dargan (D-West Haven). Dargan had initially proposed the new legislation to change workmen's compensation laws.
NU spokesman Mitch Gross said that the company recently fulfilled it's pledge by donating $10,000 to the United Way of Western Connecticut for the first responders fund. All told NU has now donated about $27,000 to Newtown causes, Gross said.
It is unclear who the other donations are from. Under the law state officials are required to keep the donations confidential. The few donations that have actually come in so far have been donations made to the United Way of Western Connecticut rather than directly to the state. Barrett said those funds have all been transferred to Treasurer's office.
Corporations may be more inclined to donate to the United Way rather than directly to the state because it can then be claimed as a charitable donation for tax purposes.
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