The U.S. government has given families of Americans held hostage in Iraq, Kuwait and Lebanon more than $2.5 million in cash payments and life and health insurance under a little-known benefits program.

A total of 381 families received $1,721,9l8 in salary compensation, 258 families were given $36,923 for life insurance payments and 290 received $766,933 for health insurance.Most of the money went to families of the "human shields" held by Iraqi President Saddam Hussein last fall in Kuwait and Iraq. In addition, families of three of the six Americans held hostage in Lebanon and a fourth released in April 1990 were paid a total of about $116,000.

The figures were released Thursday at the request of The Associated Press. None of the names of the recipients was released by the State Department, which cited the Privacy Act for not disclosing their identity.

Congress, with support from the White House, attached the compensation amendment to the foreign operations appropriations bill in November.

The aim was to guarantee a subsistence salary plus health and life insurance payments for all Americans held hostage or in hiding in the event their employers did not provide the compensation.

The hostage held longest, AP Middle East bureau chief Terry Anderson, was not eligible for the government compensation because he remains on the AP payroll.

Federal privacy laws bar disclosure by the government of such details about Anderson or other Americans held captive.

The salary payments ran out May 5. However, the hostage families are eligible for the health and life insurance benefits for another year, according to Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, author of the amendment.

The legislation provided for payments up to the level of GS-9 government workers, or $24,705 to $32,121, as of last August.

"I believe this type of relief for private individuals is unprecedented," a State Department official said.

Congressional aides said there was no move afoot to provide further payments as this year's foreign aid bill makes its way toward final passage. The reason cited is that the hostages in Iraq and Kuwait were liberated.

However, Stevens said he was considering submitting legislation to continue the salaries and benefits for the hostages in Lebanon.