Almost seven months after Hurricane Sandy slammed the northeast coast, the American Red Cross says more than a third of the $303 million fund raised for storm victims still hasn’t been spent.
While some say the leftover money means smart planning on their part, others say the Red Cross failed to respond to the disaster with proper urgency and left the long-haul efforts for storm recovery to others.
The humanitarian organization says it’s still sitting on about $110 million in Sandy aid.
"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. "Stick with what you're good at."
Homeowners could have used more help from the Red Cross last 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," McCarthy said. "Given the lingering despair, it's hard to understand the argument that 'We are setting that money aside.'"
Officials said the money was put aside as they waited to see which states were the hardest-hit.
"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."
The question is whether people who donated to the Red Cross to “Help disaster victims,” as it says on their website, realized the organization’s limitations.
The Red Cross raised $15 million in donations for tornado victims in Oklahoma, as of Thursday, including a $1 million donation from NBA player Kevin Durant.
The organization said all the money raised for Sandy will still be spent on relief and not diverted to other disasters. It expects to spend $27 million in the coming months on a program for “move-in assistance” grants that would give displaced families up to $10,000.
"Our experience shows that as the recovery goes on, the needs of survivors will evolve," said Red Cross senior vice president Roger Lowe. "It's important to make sure some money is available for those needs no one can predict right now."