Red Cross funding debate touches area branch

The area American Red Cross organization is dealing with donation issues amid recent controversy at the national level.

The allocation of Red Cross donations collected for the “Liberty Fund,” a donation fund established as a result of the Sept. 11 attack on the United States, has come under scrutiny as members of Congress recently criticized the national organizaton’s decision to devote some of the donated money to build blood supplies and respond to future terrorist attacks.

These accusations ultimately affect the local chapters across the nation, including the Sunflower Chapter in McPherson.

“When we first started out, I think (our national organization ) was going to try to raise $3 million, and you know it just kept pouring in,” said Patti Robinson, chapter director.

As of Nov. 7, $564 million has been raised for the “Liberty Fund,” and $121 million has already been paid directly to families.

The amount of money donated locally for the fund, through the Sunflower Chapter, is $6,858.

The “Liberty Fund” was established to “ensure that all donations to the Red Cross since Sept. 11, unless specifically designated otherwise, will go to relieve the suffering of the victims, their families, and dependents, as well as to assist the emergency services crews on site for as long as it takes,” according to information from the Sunflower Chapter.

Outgoing national Red Cross President Bernadine Healy, testifying before Congress, said families will receive about $300 million total. The money expected to remain in the “Liberty Fund” is estimated at $200 million.

The Red Cross explained how the “Liberty Fund” money has been distributed to date:

— Family Gift Program. The Red Cross has provided $47.9 million in cash assistance to help families who have lost a loved one who was designated as a source of family income. This money has helped families pay mortgages, rent, utilities, tuition, funeral expenses and transportation.

Victims of the anthrax attacks are now being helped financially. The Red Cross has estimated the immediate needs of disaster victims will cost about $100 million.

— Immediate disaster relief. The Red Cross has spent $72.4 million on disaster relief so far, which includes more than 10.1 million meals served since Sept. 11, and provision of shelters and respite centers for displaced families and recovery workers.

— Additional monies. An additional $27.7 million has been used to assist military families involved in the war and give financial assistance to families of foreign nationals killed in the World Trade Center attack.

— Telecommunications, information-system upgrade. The upgraded telecommunications consists of $5.8 million for the creation of two toll-free hotlines, expanded auditing and accounting services, and augmented systems for processing the increased number of contributions.

The Red Cross also needed more bandwidth to help with the heightened use of their Web site and revenues to help pay for the cost of around-the-clock staffing of the Disaster Operations Center used to support the disaster relief operations.

The money expected to remain in the “Liberty Fund,” an estimated $200 million, will be used to help families with any additional immediate needs and long-term needs such as mental health and grief counseling, or medical bills.

Robinson said local people have been generous in their contributions of well over $6,000 collected from community organizations, schools and individuals.

Robinson has been trying to explain to well-meaning contributors that local disaster needs are still going on, and money is still needed at that level also.

“I’ve tried to say that right now the Red Cross (at the national level) has plenty of money, but we can definitely use it,” she said.

“Quite truthfully, we’re concerned what’s going to happen because so many people have donated already,” Robinson said. “And they’re going to say, ‘Oh well, we can’t help you because we’ve already done this,’ and we’re going to be hurting on the local level.”

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