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There have been far fewer applicants than expected for money from a $100 million fund BP PLC set up to help deepwater rig workers after a federal moratorium on drilling prompted by the massive oil spill.

With nine days left to apply, a spokesman for the charity running the program told The Associated Press on Tuesday that only 356 people have come forward. Up to 9,000 people had been expected to seek grants of $3,000 to $30,000.

The charity said it turns out that many rig workers are being kept on the job by their employers, despite the moratorium.

Grants were expected to be limited to those who worked on the 33 rigs affected by the moratorium. But with so much money apparently left over, the charity plans to offer a second round of grants -- this time to workers who support the deepwater rigs, such as people on supply boats and pilots who provide helicopter transportation to rigs.

'We expect all of the money to be made as grants at that time,' said Mukul Verma, a spokesman for the Gulf Coast Restoration and Protection Foundation, which is running the program.

A recent federal report claimed the moratorium has not increased unemployment in the region. Louisiana lawmakers and the oil and gas industry immediately disputed the finding.

The report, released at a Senate hearing last Thursday, said the moratorium imposed after the BP oil spill likely caused a temporary loss of 8,000 to 12,000 jobs in the Gulf region, including about 2,000 on deepwater rigs. Total industry spending in the region decreased by nearly $2 billion, the report said, most of it by drilling operators.

But the report found no large increases in unemployment claims, thanks in part to a big hiring push for cleanup crews and massive spending by BP on the recovery effort.

The scenario is far rosier than described in some previous reports, including an Interior Department estimate over the summer that 23,000 jobs could be lost to the moratorium.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a leading critic of the moratorium, attacked the report and said the 'heavy hand of the federal government' was placing thousands of jobs in the Gulf at risk.

Of those rig workers who have applied for grants so far, 210 are from Louisiana, 57 from Mississippi, 36 from Texas and 25 from Alabama. There was even one applicant from as far away as Alaska, according to Verma, who said that person was likely working in the Gulf at the time of the spill but relocated after the moratorium went into effect.

The charity began accepting applications on Sept. 1. Gulf rig workers have until Sept. 30 to apply. Grants to rig workers, based on financial hardship, are expected to be made in October.

Details were still being worked out related to the timing and eligibility requirements of the second round of grants to workers who support deepwater rigs.

The April 20 explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon rig killed 11 workers and led to 206 million gallons of oil spewing from BP's undersea well.

The well was finally declared dead on Sunday, after cement was pumped down through a relief well to seal the well that blew out from the bottom.

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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