Families of people held hostage (or in hiding) in Iraq and Kuwait soon will be eligible for temporary coverage under the federal employee health and life insurance programs and payments of up to $2,000 a month under a program cleared by the White House late last week.
The State Department will notify individuals of the new benefits and how to apply for them.
An estimated 750 Americans have been stuck since Iraq invaded Kuwait in August. Some are under house arrest. Others have become human shields at sites near likely U.S. bombing targets. Others are in hiding. Federal and military personnel detained in Iraq and Kuwait are automatically covered by the benefits, and their families have been getting regular salary payments. But for the families of many of the civilians, the financial strain has added to the burden of worrying about the safety of loved ones.
Money to cover the benefits will come from a $10 million fund Congress established, as part of the Agency for International Development's appropriation, just before adjourning. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), an expert in federal civil service matters, suggested putting the nonfederal hostages temporarily under the government's pay, health and life insurance blanket.
To be eligible for the payments and coverage (which can, in some cases, be made retroactive to Aug. 2), the person held hostage or in hiding, or a member of his or her immediate family, must be a U.S. citizen. The hostage must have lost a job because of the Iraqi invasion to get federal payments, and must have lost health or life insurance coverage to get the insurance benefits.
Officials are uncertain how long the payments, which will begin shortly, will continue once the hostage is released. But health insurance may be provided, via the Blue Cross-Blue Shield federal employee health plan, for 12 months after the hostage returns.Emergency Financial Help
The Federal Employee Education and Assistance Fund says it has given $250,000 to workers in need. Most recently it saved a National Institutes of Health secretary and her two children from being evicted. They fell behind in the rent because her husband became disabled. She saw a mention of the assistance fund here and called for help.
The fund gets most of its money from contributions by federal employees. In addition, Government Employees Insurance Co. has made corporate grants to the fund, which also arranges for student loans. It is based in Littleton, Colo., and can be reached weekdays by calling 1-800-338-0755, or by writing to the fund at 8441 West Bowles, Littleton, Colo. 80123. Investing
In January, all restrictions will be lifted on investments in federal workers' tax-deferred thrift savings plan accounts. Those now in the stock and bond market options need to take certain steps if they want to continue in those options. Otherwise, their investments will be put in the safer Treasury securities option next year. Check this space tomorrow for details.