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Program to Help Nuclear Weapons Workers Moved from
Labor Department to Justice Department

By: Elizabeth Nelson

The new program which compensates nuclear weapons workers with illnesses caused by radiation and other toxic substances will no longer be part of the Labor Department. Under the Bush administration by executive order, the program will shift to the Justice Department.

In fear that under the Justice Department, it will take longer to get payments to sick workers, many Republican, as well as Democratic, lawmakers are opposed to the move. The change was the idea of Labor Secretary Elaine Chao, who proposed the move this month. She believed that the Labor Department was not properly equipped to handle the needs of the workers. Sponsors of the program in the Senate and House said that they made it clear when proposing the program that they intended it to be ran by the Labor Department.

Senator Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., wrote Chao a letter saying her efforts to shed responsibility for the program seem to contradict testimony she gave at her confirmation hearing this year. At the earlier hearing, Chao said the Labor Department was "capable" of administering the new program.

The program is expected to pay workers up to $150,000 beginning this summer. Workers with radiation caused illnesses are also eligible for health benefits. Many of these workers were contaminated at nuclear weapon production sites and now have health problems, including cancer, that they attribute to the radioactive and toxic materials.