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Much Of Red Cross Fund For Sandy Aid Still Unspent

A third of the money the Red Cross has raised to help victims of Superstorm Sandy is still unspent, nearly seven months after the disaster.

People receive free food from the American Red Cross in the heavily damaged Rockaways
People receive free food from the American Red Cross in the heavily damaged Rockaways (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

The Red Cross says keeping roughly $110 million of the $303 million donated to Sandy relief will help it address needs that weren’t immediately apparent after the storm.

Some disaster relief experts say that’s smart planning. But others question whether the Red Cross, an organization best known for rushing into disasters to distribute food and get people into shelter, should have acted with more urgency in the weeks after the storm and left long-haul recovery tasks to someone else.

“The Red Cross has never been a recovery operation. Their responsibility has always been mass care,” said Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that monitors aid groups. “Stick with what you’re good at.”

Storm victims could have used more help this past winter, said Kathleen McCarthy, director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York.

“People were cold. Homes mildewed. There wasn’t enough decent housing,” she said. “Given the lingering despair, it’s hard to understand the argument that ‘We are setting that money aside.’

Over the next few months, the Red Cross expects to spend as much as $27 million of its remaining Sandy donations on a program providing “move-in assistance” grants of up to $10,000 to families displaced by the storm. About 2,000 households have been assisted by the program so far, with an additional 4,000 waiting for an eligibility determination.

Part of the delay in spending, officials said, is to wait to see how the hardest-hit states allocate a $60 billion pot of federal relief dollars and address gaps in the government aid package.

“We are waiting to see where the greatest need is going to be over time,” said Josh Lockwood, CEO of the Red Cross Greater New York Region. “We are more concerned with spending our resources wisely rather than quickly.”


 

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