Senate to Pay for Ricin-Related Losses

Posted April 6, 2004 at 5:44pm

Senate employees who lost personal property as a result of February’s ricin incident and subsequent cleanup are now eligible for reimbursements of up to $4,000.

The Senate approved the payments Friday in a resolution that is nearly identical to one passed in the wake of the 2001 anthrax attacks on Congress. The measure, which applies only to Senators, their employees and chamber officers, allows the Sergeant-at-Arms and the Doorkeeper to settle claims related to the discovery of ricin in Majority Leader Bill Frist’s (R-Tenn.) personal office on Feb. 2.

According to a spokeswoman for Rules and Administration Chairman Trent Lott (R- Miss.), who sponsored the resolution, the payments will likely go to reimburse Senate staff who lost personal items during the decontamination process.

“It’s for mainly clothing, backpacks, bags — pretty much anything they were wearing,” said Lott’s spokeswoman, Susan Irby. There is no limit on the total reimbursement amount, which is paid from the Senate’s contingency fund, only the amount given to each individual.

At the time of the discovery, Capitol Police quarantined nearly four dozen individuals who were in the Dirksen Senate Office Building, where Frist’s office is located, and later sent them through a decontamination process in which they handed most of their personal belongings — including clothing and shoes — to law enforcement officers for additional cleaning.

In mid-March, an e-mail circulated by Capitol Police Operations Director Michael Hoskings acknowledged that some of those items were still being disinfected in high-temperature ovens.

Erik Smulson a spokesman for Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), is among those who underwent the decontamination process.

Smulson has yet to receive his clothing and said Tuesday he will likely apply for a reimbursement for his belongings.

“I definitely plan to take advantage of it,” Smulson said. “There certainly was a cost involved to replace what we were wearing.”

The Senate aide added: “Just because I look like a schlub doesn’t mean I dress like one.”