Vol. 12, No. 2,856W - The American Reporter - March 18, 2006


Brasch Words
TWIN TOWERS FUND SLOW TO HELP TO VICTIMS, BUT DEADLINE FOR GIFTS IS MET

by Walter M. Brasch
American Reporter Correspondent
Bloomsburg, Pa.

BLOOMSBURG, Pa., Nov. 21, 2001 -- Almost two months after the Sept. 11 n= ational tragedy, and sandwiched between two Congressional investigative hea= rings about how charities are distributing donations to victims and their f= amilies, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani announced that the city-sponsore= d Twin Towers Fund will finally begin to release funds. The Twin Towers Fun= d had accumulated $85 million since Sept. 11, but had not provided assistan= ce. Donors to the Fund include a four-year-old girl who gave 60 cents, a= nd husband-wife celebrities Arnold Schwartzenegger and Maria Shriver who co= ntributed $1 million. Several corporations have made six- and seven-figure = donations, according to Tamra Lhota, president of the New York City Public/= Private Initiatives, which oversees the Fund.

Of the 190 charities which have collected about $1.2 billion for all vi= ctims and their families, the Twin Towers Fund is third in collections, beh= ind the Red Cross and the September 11th Fund established by the United Way= and the New York Community Trust.

Neither the American Institute of Philanthropy's (AIP) Charity Watch nor= Philanthropy Research's GuideStar, both of which evaluate charities, have = current financial details about the Twin Towers Fund. Daniel Borochoff, AIP= president, says his organization doesn't evaluate new charities for three = years. The Twin Towers Fund "is just too new," he says.

At a press conference Nov. 7, Giuliani said "hopefully before Thanksgivi= ng" at least $100,000 will be given to each of the families of the 406 New = York City firefighters, police, and New York/New Jersey Port Authority pers= onnel killed in the Twin Towers destruction. He emphasized that "every sing= le penny" collected will go to those groups. He did not include any other u= niformed services group previously identified by the Twin Towers Fund as po= tential recipients.

With a day to spare, New York's beloved mayor met the deadline. He told= a press conference today that the Twin Towers Fund had distributed a total= of $39,935,00 in gifts ranging from $60,000 to $300,000 to 331 families of= uniformed officers killed in the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Cente= r.

The largest gift was to the family of a firefighter who left six you= ng children behind, he said. Mayor Giuliani noted that few of the other fun= ds have actually disgorged the enormous sums of money collected to help the= World Trade Center victims.

Giuliani says that for the remaining $45 million that will not be dist= ributed by Thanksgiving, as well as future donations, "we really need more = time to figure out what's the most equitable way to distribute that."

The day of Giuliani's announcement was one day after the oversight subco= mmittee of the House Energy and Commerce Committeehad just concluded formal= hearings into possible fraud insolicitation of funds. The oversight commit= tee of the House Waysand Means Committee, which often deals with issues rel= ated to the Internal Revenue Service and charitable donations, was schedule= d to hold formal hearings the next day.

To a series of questions about the coincidence of the release of funds = the day between the two major hearings, KimSerafin of the Mayor's office sa= id on Nov. 8 "you are reading too much into it." She claimed the release of= funds was "not related" to a growing public concern or to the hearings the= mselves.

Nevertheless, the distribution of funds as outright gifts is a policy ch= ange. "The most expeditious way to assist [families]is through FEMA [Federa= l Emergency Management Agency] or the Red Cross," said Tamra Lhota on Oct. = 24, six weeks after the disaster. She indicated at that time there were "no= immediate plans" to distribute funds to families. "If needs [of the unifor= med personnel] are not being met," said Lhota, "we stand here to help." The= intent at that time, she said, was for families to seek assistance "for un= met needs" from the Twin Towers Fund "only after" they received assistance = from other agencies.

Persons calling the Fund's toll-free number (877-870-4278) first hear a = recorded solicitation for donations. The Web site (www.twintowers.vista.com= ) is little more than an appeal to donate funds on-line. Callers who spoke = to someone at the phone bank were often told they first had to apply to FEM= A which would then provide information to the Twin Towers Fund for suppleme= ntal assistance.

"That is not accurate," says Russ Edmonston, FEMA public information off= icer. He says that although FEMA assists and advises other agencies, there = is no direct connection between FEMA and the Twin Towers Fund. "The Twin To= wers Fund should at least be taking names and numbers," he says.

"The best-protected group are uniformed personnel," says the AIP's Dani= el Borochoff. He says there are significant governmental benefits for the u= niformed service victims' families. In addition, existing non-profit charit= ies are providing a wide range of additional assistance, from food and mort= gage payments to college tuition for children of the victims. The Fire Depa= rtment of New York says it prefers donations be made either to the United F= irefighters Association Widows' and Children's Fund or to the New York Fire= fighters 911 ReliefFund/International Association of Firefighters.

Within= the first week of the disaster, New York State Attorney General Eliot Spit= zer and his staff increased their comprehensive oversight of charitable giv= ing "when it became evident that the scale and scope of the disaster was go= ing to be met by an equally large base of donations," according to Mark Vio= lette of the attorney general's staff.

"We have opened our hearts and wallets to the victims, and the people wa= nt assurances that their money [is] spent as effective as possible, that th= ere is the maximum good from their generosity," Violette says.

Since Sept. 11, about 120 new disaster relief organizations have applied= for tax-exempt status, according to Steven Miller of the Internal Revenue = Service.

Although most charities must register with the attorney general's offic= e and file annual reports, Violette says his office has encouraged charitie= s to publicly report their intentions on the use of funds and to report fin= ancial data monthly.

Individuals may access the attorney general's Website to learn about ag= encies, their fund raising and spending, and what funds are available. Indi= viduals will be able to use a ncomprehensive search engine to find specific= requirements, such as "mortgage assistance."

Charities also have access to a confidential database, based upon one e= stablished following the Oklahoma City bombing six years earlier, to track = applications for funds. The information, says Violette, is to avoid duplica= tion of effort, make it easier for victims and their families to apply for = and receive assistance, to identify needs not being met, and to reduce frau= d. New York's attorney general transferred the database to the charities on= Nov. 2.

"Certain organizations have a history of experience with disaster assist= ance," says Violette. "Newer organizations may have the best intentions but= don't have the structure or even their boards of directors established," h= e says.

For more information: Twin Towers Fund www.twint= owersfund.vista.com or www.nyc.gov/html/em/twintowersfund.htmlNew York State Atty.General www.oag.state.ny.us or www.w= tcrelief.info,
Federal Emergency Management Agency www.fe= ma.gov
American Institute of Philanthropy www.charitywatc= h.org
Philanthropic Research Inc.www.guidestar.org Chronicle of Philanthropywww.philanthropy.com
Floati= ng Head's Charity Watchwww.charitywatch.com.

Walter M. Bras= ch, a reporter and editor, isprofessor of journalism at Bloomsburg Universi= ty and a award-winning nationally-syndicated columnist. Rosemary Brasch and= 38 other individuals sssisted on this investigation or provided informatio= n. Many are employed in governmental agencies or charities and asked to rem= ain anonymous.

COMMENTARY: A BETTER INVESTIGATION WAS NEEDED
The = American Reporter

Mayor Giuliani may have had the most altruistic intent when he created t= he Twin Towers Fund.

He may not have seen it as a way to control donations to the city. H= e may not have seen it as PR for the city, especially since at least one of= New York City's newspapers has been trumpeting the cause and the mayor's r= ole since the fund was created.

And, he may not have seen it as a way to= improve relations with the city's uniformed services, with whom he has had= a series of confrontations.

But the politically-savvy mayor should have investigated all other fund= s that were in place, had the resources, and were ready to assist the famil= ies of all who were affected by the disaster.

Had he done so, perhaps he would not have waited two months -- until th= e heat of Congressional hearings -- to change a policy, one created with go= od intentions but without a lot of thought. He would not have waited two mo= nths to distribute funds -- undoubtedly more than anyone had thoughtpossibl= e.

And, had he investigated other available charities andrealized they were= serving the uniformed services, the 60 centsthat the 4-year-old girl donat= ed and the $1 million that two NewYork celebrities donated to the $85 milli= on fund might have goneinto other charities, including those maintained by = thefirefighters, who lost more than 300 of their own, and who saythey prefe= r donations be made to their own long-standing support charities.

Copyright 2006 Joe Shea The American Reporter. All Rights Reserved.

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