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Bill Seeks To Reopen 9/11 Scholarships Funded By Calif.’s Specialty License Plates

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(credit: California Department of Motor Vehicles)

(credit: California Department of Motor Vehicles)

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SACRAMENTO (AP) — Three state lawmakers proposed legislation on Thursday to reopen a memorial scholarship program for the relatives of Californians who were killed in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks but did not know they were eligible for the program, which is funded by the state’s sale of specialty license plates.

Sen. Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin, introduced SB384 to reinstate the 9-11 Memorial Scholarship Program, after an investigation by The Associated Press and a subsequent review by the state auditor found it was poorly administered.

The state collected more than $15 million from selling specialty memorial license plates, but only a sliver of it went to the scholarships.

As the AP found, the auditor said the state did not meet its statutory deadline to notify the family members of Sept. 11 victims by the July 2003 deadline prescribed in the law. The state did so only in April 2005, just three months before the program ended.

“We sold special license plates so the kids who lost parents in that horrible terrorist attack could have help paying for college, and they aren’t getting the money. This is ridiculous, and the state should be ashamed,” Gaines said in a news release.

Under the proposal, dependents of Californians killed in the Sept. 11 attacks would have until July 2015 to apply.

Sen. Mark DeSaulnier and Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, both Democrats from Concord, are co-authors of the bill, which will be heard in a public safety committee next week. The three lawmakers and Gov. Jerry Brown requested the audit of the state’s entire specialty plate program after the AP’s wide-ranging investigation last year. The audit confirmed that the 20-year-old program is rife with problems.

Residents of California, where all four jetliners were bound when they were hijacked, have bought or renewed the memorial license plates more than 200,000 times since 2002, spending $50 apiece to buy the plates and $40 a year to renew them. They believed they were helping family members of Sept. 11 victims attend college as part of a law passed in May 2002.

The state Department of Motor Vehicles promoted the plates as a scholarship program until it was made aware of the AP’s findings.

About 15 percent of the money from the 9/11 plates was to be earmarked for the family members of Sept. 11 victims to attend college. That would have made $2.2 million available for scholarships, but the AP’s review found that just $21,381 had reached the children and spouses of the three dozen California residents killed then. The scholarship program closed to new applicants in 2005.

The California Victim Compensation and Government Claims Board, whose responsibility it was to notify eligible participants, said it disagrees with the auditor’s methodology and believes it did properly notify those who were eligible.

Board spokesman Jon Myers said this week that officials sent a broad notification letter in 2003 to about 300 potential applicants, then sent a follow-up letter with more details in 2005 to the 43 people it eventually determined were eligible to apply.

Myers said the bureau “is unaware of any evidence that there were any eligible persons that were not notified either with the 2003 or 2005 letters.”

But some potential recipients contacted by the AP last year said the letters likely went to elderly relatives or out-of-date addresses.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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