Anyone in the New York City area who currently receives payments from the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF) or has a hearing scheduled or has plans to apply for benefits likely has concerns about how the COVID-19 outbreak and pandemic is affecting VCF operations. Indeed, people have questions such as: will my payment be delayed because of COVID-19? Or, some people may be concerned about the status of hearings. Others, still, likely have concerns about whether they will be able to meet certain deadlines for appeals. Given that social distancing and stay-home orders make it difficult for business-as-usual to continue, it is important to understand how the VCF is operating at this time.
The VCF recently released an information sheet about how its operations have been impacted by COVID-19, and we want to provide you with additional information here. In short, the VCF is still operating, but with delays and limitations.
Payments Are Still Being Processed
Claims are still being processed by the VCF, as are payments. At a time when so many New Yorkers are out of work due to COVID-19, and many are suffering from the disease itself, the VCF recognizes how essential VCF payments are for claimants. While VCF payments may be delayed, payments continue to be processed on a daily basis, and the VCF indicates that it is “coordinating with [its] partners to minimize any delays.” However, if you do receive payments from the VCF, it is realistic to expect that payments could be delayed.
Contacting the VCF By Phone
If you need to contact the VCF, your only option at this point in time is to call the VCF Helpline. However, given that this is the primary method of communicating with the VCF during this time, the Helpline is experiencing “higher than normal call volumes.”
The VCF recommends that, unless the issue is time-sensitive and requires immediate attention, claimants or anyone with questions avoid leaving a voicemail message requesting a call back given the high call volume. If you are trying to contact the VCF about your hearing, the VCF requests that you do not call the Helpline with questions about your hearing—the VCF will contact you and, if necessary, will reschedule your hearing. We will say more about hearings shortly. The VCF Helpline remains operational during the Monday through Friday work week, with hours from 8:30 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (EST).
Your Hearing May Be Rescheduled or Shifted to the Telephone
As we said above, the VCF is currently requesting that anyone with a scheduled hearing not call the VCF Helpline. Instead, the VCF reports that it will contact anyone who has a hearing scheduled and will make plans either to reschedule the hearing for a later date or will shift the hearing to the telephone. To be clear, all in-person hearings have been canceled by the VCF “until further notice.” Accordingly, if you have an in-person hearing scheduled, you should not plan to attend in person.
If you have an in-person hearing scheduled, you should wait for the VCF to contact your attorney (or you) about rescheduling or shifting to a telephone hearing. Compensation hearings currently are being conducted over the telephone on what the VCF describes as a “trial basis.” Eligibility hearings currently are being rescheduled unless the eligibility hearing is for an expedited claim, in which case the hearings are being shifted to the telephone.
Correspondence with the VCF: Electronic Only
The VCF is not sending out any hardcopy mail—only electronic copies.
Deadlines for VCF Claims
If you have a set deadline in a letter you received from the VCF, you should assume that this deadline is still in effect. However, some deadlines will be extended. For example, if a person receives a denial letter electronically and does not appeal within the required 30-day window, that person will have a new 30-day appeal window upon receiving a hardcopy of the letter. If you have a deadline for submitting missing information, you should do your best to stick to the deadline so that your claim processing is not delayed further.