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Sen. Inouye proposes federal funding for Sept. 11 memorial

By Jennifer Peltz

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 8:09 a.m. HST, Sep 11, 2011

NEW YORK >> The National September 11 Memorial & Museum could get up to $20 million a year in federal money under a new proposal from three U.S. senators, who said they hoped to trim suggested museum admission fees that organizers have said could be $20.

Sens. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York announced the proposal Saturday, on the eve of the attacks' 10th anniversary and the memorial's opening. The Democratic senators said the money would ensure that the museum, run by a nonprofit group, was both financially viable and accessible to the millions of expected visitors each year.

Sept. 11 "was an attack on America, and supporting the site that memorializes the tragedy and heroism of that day is a national responsibility," Schumer said in a release, saying he hoped federal help would "reduce the cost of admission so that no American who wishes to come to this hallowed ground is ever turned away."

The proposed federal contribution would have to be matched with private money. Indeed, it represents about a third of the memorial and museum's annual costs.

Still, the proposal would "provide needed resources for the memorial and museum to continue to serve as a symbol of the city and nation's resilience and unity," Gillibrand said in a statement.

The memorial plaza, which centers on waterfall-filled reflecting pools inscribed with the names of the nearly 3,000 people killed in the 2001 attacks, opens to victims' families Sunday and the public Monday. Public admission is free but requires reserving a ticket.

The museum is set to open next year. While victims' relatives will be admitted for free, memorial foundation President Joe Daniels told City Council members in June that members of the general public could be asked to pay about $20 if no other ways could be found to finance its upkeep.

Daniels said Saturday that the proposed federal aid would shave suggested admission fees, though he couldn't yet estimate how much.

"It would be a huge help," he said.

The federal government put up $250 million toward building the memorial; organizers have raised another $400 million privately. The memorial also is to get $10 for each sale of an official, federal Sept. 11 commemorative medal; about 160,000 have sold so far, Daniels said.

But the new proposal would mark the first federal commitment of ongoing, operating money for the memorial, he said.

It's unclear what prospects the proposal might face in Congress at a time of economic uncertainty and heated debate over federal spending, but Daniels is hopeful.

"At a time of fiscal constraint, we want to tell (federal officials) that we hope they recognize that this is a national priority, to preserve our nation's history of 9/11. At the same time, we're not asking them to do everything," he said.

The senators' proposal also calls for transferring the title to the memorial site to the National Parks Service in order to provide a mechanism for the ongoing funding, though the exact details of operating and controlling the site would be negotiated with the city and state.

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