Sandy Donations May Not All Go to Storm Victims, Watchdog Group Warns

According to a disaster aid watchdog group, victims of Superstorm Sandy may not be receiving all the support intended for them, the New York Daily News reports.

The Washington, D.C.-based Disaster Accountability Project told the News that many nonprofit organizations were misleading donors about how the funds would be used by featuring photographs of damage from the storm and victims' stories in online fundraising efforts without specifying that donations will go to Sandy relief and recovery efforts. "It's impossible for the public to know where the money is going," said DAP executive director Ben Smilowitz.

According to a DAP survey of charities in the tri-state region, approximately $400 million has been raised for those affected by Sandy — an estimate that matches New York state attorney general Eric Schneiderman's findings. Smilowitz believes, however, that the figure is closer to $550 million, as some groups are not classifying donations as Sandy-related, which means that some of the money intended for Sandy victims may end up funding relief efforts elsewhere. "It's not honest if you've raised that money with pictures and stories of Sandy survivors," said Smilowitz. Moreover, much of the money donated for Sandy relief will be used to fund longer-term projects, Smilowitz said, leaving some nonprofit bank accounts flush with cash earning interest. "Some groups put that money to the relief effort and some groups take the money for their general operations," he said.

Smilowitz also criticized the American Red Cross, which has come under fire in the past for not accounting for its disaster-relief spending in detail. "Any money that was donated for Sandy will go toward Sandy," said Sam Kille, Greater New York Regional spokesman for the Red Cross, which has raised about $235 million for Sandy relief efforts. The organization has spent about $110 million on food, supplies, and shelter for storm victims, Kille said, while the rest will go for rental assistance and to fund home repairs.

Center for Disaster Philanthropy CEO Bob Ottenhoff told the News he believed most of the money raised to help those affected by the storm would go to longer-term recovery efforts, but that more funds need to be raised to help rebuild devastated communities. "There's a surge of support immediately after the disaster, but the surge pretty much peters off after six or eight weeks," said Ottenhoff. "Yet the scope of the disaster still has a long way to go."