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February 4, 2004

More money sought for Baxter Compensation Authority

From: Portland Maine Press Herald, ME - Feb 4, 2004


AUGUSTA, Maine — Legislative budget writers heard pleas Wednesday for a renewal of funding to the Baxter Compensation Authority, saying payments to victims of abuse at Maine's school for the deaf had exhausted an initial allocation.

To date, compensation has been awarded to about one-third of 240 registered claimants, with total payments pegged at slightly more than $5 million.

Lawmakers originally earmarked $6 million for administration and compensation.

"It was clearly understood by supporters and legislators involved in the creation of the law that the $6 million would not meet the full compensation demand, but felt the amount would be enough to establish the program and begin the compensation process," the authority's program director, John Shattuck, said in testimony prepared for the Appropriations Committee.

A new bill seeks an additional $6 million. It comes at a time when state lawmakers and the Baldacci administration have just completed work of a $109 million budget-balancing package for the current fiscal year and are looking toward a similar task to cover a potential shortfall in fiscal 2005.

Of 94 claims that have been reviewed so far, 91 claimants were found eligible for compensation. Awards range from $25,000 to $60,000 to $100,000.

Submitting copies of his testimony to the Appropriations panel, Shattuck included pictures of students whom he said had been victims of abuse at the Baxter school.

"It was children whose lives were stolen," Shattuck said. "There is some justice served in the award of compensation, but these former students will never retrieve the promise of the lives of those children you see in those pictures."

Sign language translators relayed the public hearing testimony through the crowded committee room.

"Six million dollars is a tremendous amount of money, and everyone understands that for the state to find $6 million at this time would be very painful," Shattuck said.

"With all due respect," he added, "it should be painful. It should be so painful as to never let us forget, and never allow this to happen to any of our children again."

Several lawmakers, hearing and testifying for the bill, raised and acknowledged questions about the level of administrative costs within the program, which began accepting applications for claims in October 2002.

©Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All rights reserved.