The Red Cross, like many prominent charity organizations, promised aid and relief to scores of victims following the events of Superstorm Sandy. Aljazeera America is reporting that the organization has since informed many victims initially told they would receive help that they are now ineligible to access resources because of policy changes instituted by upper management operators.
After Sandy struck last year, the Red Cross raised $308 million for the relief effort, creating their Move-In Assistance Program in the process. The money raised was the highest gathered by any charity organization. The program promised storm victims that their belongings lost in the storm would be replaced and that they would be given $10,000 to find a new place to live. While the Red Cross is claiming that their program has helped nearly 3,000 victims, hundreds have been denied help due to eligibility requirements that were changed following promises made.
Aljazeera America relayed the story of Rosaline Fernandez, a storm victim who was promised help but ultimately never received it:
Rosaline Fernandez and her three children live in a tiny apartment. It’s all the high school Spanish teacher could find – or afford – after Superstorm Sandy ravaged her Jamaica Bay home on Long Island, N.Y., a year ago. The bay water met the ocean water, soon destroying her car, the furniture inside her home, her kids’ clothes and all the food.
“The first floor was completely washed out,” Fernandez told America Tonight. “There was mold. There was water. There [were] funky smells.”
Months of living in a hotel came and went before Fernandez heard that the Red Cross could help her out. She said she spoke to a caseworker who told her about the Move-In Assistance Program, a program that has helped nearly 3,000 households, according to the Red Cross. She said that the caseworker explained how Fernandez would be eligible for money to move into a new place and that all of her household items would be replaced. The Red Cross told Fernandez that she was eligible for $10,000. Once she found a new home, all she had to do was submit a W-9 tax form and the application, and she’d be set. Months later – and now more than a year after Sandy – she has not received her Red Cross aid…
“There are hundreds of people across New York that all have the same story, that were all told they would be assisted or they’re eligible for assistance, and did homework for the Red Cross,” said Ben Smilowitz, founder of the Disaster Accountability Project, a nonprofit aiming to improve transparency in relief organizations. Smilowitz, a former Red Cross volunteer during Hurricane Katrina, said that many people affected by Sandy “jumped through hoops, took days off work to collect information, and then only to find out that they weren’t eligible in the first place.”
As Smilowitz indicated, Fernandez was not alone in her struggle, as hundreds of other victims have been left in the cold by a change in Red Cross policy. What that change was exactly, and why it was instituted remains a mystery, but according to the report, many Red Cross employees, trying to help struggling families, were left outraged and dismayed by the upper management’s decision to do so:
The Red Cross worker, who wished to remain anonymous, said that, in general, he believed that the humanitarian organization attempts to be a good steward of donors’ dollars.
“However, the decision that was implemented on May 6 didn’t seem to have anything to do with that,” the worker told America Tonight. “There were clients who had received a commitment from the Red Cross for money to assist them in recovering from the storm, but then were deemed ineligible. That’s not assisting clients. That’s not directing the donor dollar where it should be. That’s lying to the victims of the storm and survivors of the storm.”
The Red Cross insists that the program criteria has been consistent since February, but that’s not what Red Cross workers say. America Tonight spoke to several former workers and one who still works there. They told MacVicar that after May 6, there was so much confusion about the program that they were ordered to not speak to their clients. Some Red Cross workers were so upset about telling clients they were no longer eligible for assistance that they quit their jobs. None of the current or former Red Cross employees who spoke to America Tonight could say for sure why the change was made, knowing only that it came from upper management.
For its part, the Red Cross has promised Congressional staff members that they would review their policies and attempt to honor any promises made that they have since rescinded.
“If clients believe they were promised assistance by a Red Cross caseworker and our documentation supports this, we will honor their request, even if they do not fully meet program criteria,” a spokesperson for the Red Cross told Aljazeera America.
Time will tell if the Red Cross comes through on their promise.
Have you or anyone you know been given assistance by the Red Cross following Sandy. Did they make you a promise but later deem you ineligible for funds? Lets us know.