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Benefits pressed for N-arms workers

Four members of New York's local congressional delegation are urging President Bush to grant compensation to more than 1,000 former Bethlehem Steel Corp. employees who worked on the country's atomic weapons program.

In a letter to the president, Sens. Charles E. Schumer and Hillary Rodham Clinton, both D.-N.Y.; Rep. Brian M. Higgins, D-Buffalo; and Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-Fairport, asked Bush to grant "special cohort status" for those former Bethlehem Steel workers who have filed claims under the Energy Employees Occupational Illness Compensation program.

The designation would let those who filed claims receive $150,000 compensation plus medical expenses, without going through a controversial process in which the government estimates the level of their radiation exposure at the Lackawanna plant.

If the designation is granted, claimants would merely have to show that they worked at the plant during the time the weapons work was being done and that they had been diagnosed with an eligible cancer.

Rep. Thomas M. Reynolds, R-Clarence, did not sign the letter, but his spokesman, L.D. Platt, said Reynolds "believes his letters to [the federal agencies administering the program] will continue to put pressure on them to correct this injustice."

So far, 2,036 claims have been filed on behalf of former Bethlehem Steel employees; only 433 have been paid.

e-mail: jbonfatti@buffnews.com

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