American Red Cross Commits Additional $6 Million to Superstorm Sandy Relief Efforts

The American Red Cross will commit an additional $6 million to recovery efforts for those affected by Superstorm Sandy, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The commitment, which was announced less than a week before the one-year anniversary of Sandy's landfall, is part of an agreement with New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman which specifies that the funds be used for housing-related needs. In recent months, the Red Cross has been criticized for its handling of a program to help Sandy victims transition from temporary to permanent housing. With a maximum grant amount of $10,000, the Move-In Assistance Program was designed to cover relocation expenses, rebuilding costs, furniture, and temporary housing costs, among other things. According to a complaint filed by the Maryland-based Disaster Accountability Project (DAP), however, the Red Cross changed the rules for the program midcourse, resulting in as many as one thousand New Yorkers who had applied for assistance being ruled ineligible.

The Red Cross has said that an internal review of the program shows some applicants were incorrectly denied assistance. DAP executive director Ben Smilowitz told the Journal that the additional $6 million will enable the organization "to honor its past promises of eligibility and assistance," and that the move is "extremely encouraging if they actually follow through."

In addition, the Red Cross agreed to improve the transparency of its disaster-related fundraising, including making changes to its Web site. According to a statement from Red Cross officials, the organization is "committed to transparency in the giving and spending of charitable funds" and will address additional funding needs that were "collaboratively identified" by the organization and Schneiderman. To date, the Red Cross has spent or committed about $280 million of the $308 million it raised for Sandy victims.

In related news, the Journal reports that Schneiderman reached an agreement on payouts with three other charities — the Cleveland-based Brees Dream Foundation, which will pay out some $225,000 in Sandy-related donations by next October; New York-based Kids in Distressed Situations, which by early next year will distribute nearly $300,000 in donations it received; and the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, which agreed to award $3.15 million over the next three years for Sandy assistance.

This summer, Schneiderman's office examined the grantmaking activities, in-kind donations, and expenditures of the Red Cross and nearly ninety other charities that collected donations for Sandy victims. In July, the Charities Bureau in the AG's office released a report which concluded that some $238 million of the $575 million raised for Sandy relief and recovery efforts remains unallocated.

Melanie Grayce West. "Red Cross Pledges More Sandy Funds." Wall Street Journal 10/23/2013.