After criticism, the Red Cross releases additional $6 million to Sandy victims

Liz Goodwin, Yahoo News
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Hurricane Sandy, Ocean Grove Pier - New Jersey, October 29, 1012 - Photograph by Bob Bowné

After negotiations with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, the Red Cross and three other charities have agreed to release millions of dollars in donations to the victims of Superstorm Sandy.

Schneiderman announced the agreement on Thursday in a press conference on Long Beach, a coastal Long Island community that is still struggling to rebuild a year after Superstorm Sandy swept through New York and New Jersey and crippled the region.

The Red Cross, which has spent about 90 percent of the $308 million it raised for Sandy survivors so far, agreed to spend an additional $6 million for housing-related needs, as well as increase transparency on its website for online donors. Half of that will go to a renters' assistance program, $1 million will help families living in hotels after federal and local assistance dried up, and $2 million will be spent on other housing projects in partnership with the attorney general's office, according to a Red Cross spokeswoman.

The Brees Dream Foundation, Kids in Distressed Situations and the New York Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church will also spend millions more in their Sandy donations on relief over the next few months, according to Schneiderman’s office.

Schneiderman began reviewing more than 90 charities over the summer, asking them how much of the $575 million they raised in Sandy donations they had spent so far and on what. In July, the charities told Schneiderman they had spent only 4.25 percent of what they had raised. As of this month, that figure shot up to 43 percent.

"In the aftermath of superstorm Sandy, people throughout New York, across the country and around the world opened their hearts and made more than half a billion dollars in charitable contributions to help those in need,” Schneiderman said in a statement. “Unfortunately, too many of our neighbors are still struggling to recover, which is why I remain committed to ensuring that my office uses every tool at its disposal to maximize relief for Sandy recovery efforts.”

He thanked the charities for agreeing to disburse the funds.

"The American Red Cross and dozens of other governmental and non-governmental entities responded with maximum effort and resources to this unprecedented disaster," Gail McGovern, president and CEO of the Red Cross, said in a statement. "The needs of Sandy survivors remain significant, and the Red Cross has agreed to step up and commit additional funds to address these unmet needs."

Last summer, a watchdog organization called the Disaster Accountability Project filed a complaint signed by more than 150 Sandy survivors over the Red Cross Move-In Assistance Program. The group says victims were told by Red Cross caseworkers that they had qualified to receive up to $10,000 to repair their homes or rent apartments, only to find out later they no longer qualified. The mix-up added financial hardship for those attempting to put their lives back together, the complaint argues. 

A spokeswoman said last week that the agency is working to correct any errors that were made in the program. The agency is planning to disburse an addition $4 million in Move-In Assistance.

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