The administration says more study is needed to determine whether some workers who helped mine uranium actually qualify for a federal compensation program. Critics say further delay means more eligible workers will die before getting any money.
"They've been stonewalling, and it's a crying shame," said Ed Brickey, president of the Colorado Uranium Workers Council. "We have people who are dying because of where they worked."
The administration wants to delay the payments until the completion of three studies, said Chris Ullman, spokesman for the Office of Management and Budget.
William Lambert, an epidemiologist at the University of Oregon working with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, said the studies are looking at whether exposure to uranium and silica dust in certain situations caused the illnesses.
It could be a year before the studies are finished, Lambert said.
"The administration is shirking its moral and legal responsibility to a segment of society that is powerless because they're old and sick. It's a total disgrace," said Lori Goodman, spokeswoman for Dine CARE, which represents Navajo Indians who worked in the mines.
The Radiation Exposure Compensation Act was passed by Congress in 1990 to compensate below-ground uranium miners and people exposed to radioactive fallout from nuclear weapons tests.
Above-ground uranium miners, ore-haulers, and millers were added to the program last year and could begin applying for $100,000 payments in January.
At least 141 ore-haulers and millers applied for compensation, but none has been paid.
Now the administration wants to remove those workers from the program until the studies are finished. OMB officials met with staff for several senators earlier this month, briefing them on the administration's position.
Steve Bell, chief of staff for U.S. Sen. Pete Domenici, R-New Mexico, said Domenici and other supporters of the sick workers plan to fight the delay.
To view an Associated Press story carried by the Boston Globe, click here.
Bush administration wants to delay compensation for some Cold War-era workers in nuclear weapons programs who developed illnesses, the Associated Press reports.