Much of Red Cross Fund for Sandy Aid still unspent – Associated Press
 

Seven months after Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross has only spent a third of the $303 million it raised to assist victims. Is this smart planning? “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 non-profit group that monitors aid groups. “Stick with what you’re good at.” Kathleen McCarthy, director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York, thinks that people could have used more help this winter.

Red Cross says that all the money will eventually be spent on the storm recovery, for instance on a program providing “move-in assistance” grants to displaced families. About 2,000 households have been assisted so far, with an additional 4,000 waiting for an eligibility determination.

That strategy contrasts with the approach taken by the Robin Hood Foundation, which was in charge of distributing more than $70 million raised by a benefit concert. That fund was depleted entirely by April. Robin Hood said they moved as fast as they could because delays in government aid were leaving big gaps in services.

 

Taking the Downside Out of Donations to Disaster Victims – New York Times blog
 

Each time a natural or man-made disaster strikes, Americans demonstrate their generosity. But as Alina Tugend points out in her Shortcuts column this week, while collecting the money can be a relatively straightforward task, handing it out is not. Some donors complain the process can be opaque and too lengthy. But some NGO argue that affected communities often need long-term help, for instance in terms of mental healthcare. Now a group of people affected by school shootings are setting up a National Compassion Fund that would collect money and get it directly to the victims each time a man-made disaster occurs. All the money would be distributed within six months and a corporate donor would pick the administrative tab.

See also: Shortcut column

 

FEMA insights from a departing chief of staff – Washington Post
 

Jason McNamara served as FEMA’s chief of staff for the past four years and will soon leave the agency to work as a consultant.

He expects damages from the Oklahoma tornado to amount to less than $500 million, with FEMA having already delivered about $4 million in assistance to victims.

In terms of how FEMA has changed during his tenure, McNamara said the agency has worked to strengthen its partnerships with state and local partners. “What I’ve learned is that (…) the best way to address (disasters) is to build the capabilities of your partners — the private sector, the media, volunteer groups, and all the folks that understand the affected communities,” McNamara said. “You have to bring everyone to the table and make it more of a team thing instead of a chain-of-command thing.”

One of the more difficult tests for FEMA in recent years came after Hurricane Sandy, which caused widespread power outages. McNamara admitted that the agency did not anticipate the extent of the problem.

McNamara explained that the agency was able to test new approaches designed to knock down barriers to aid. FEMA also adopted new methods for estimating disaster damages after Sandy, more in line with insurance-industry standards.

He concluded that natural disasters have a tendency to turn political. “Governors recognize it as a defining moment of their tenure, and they don’t want to get blamed when something goes wrong.” McNamara added that the federal government often ends up as a scapegoat in those situations.