Red Cross plans to disburse 90% of donations for attacks by September

Thursday, January 31st 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ The American Red Cross expects to collect $850 million in its terrorist attack relief fund and plans to disburse 90 percent of the money by Sept. 11, 2002, charity officials said Thursday.

The Red Cross said it already had distributed $490 million to victims' families, people who lost their home or job because of the terrorist attacks, and to disaster-relief services.

Former Sen. George Mitchell was appointed by the Red Cross in December to oversee a plan to disburse the final $360 million in the Liberty Fund.

Mitchell said he met with several victims groups, other charity groups, Red Cross donors and government officials to figure out how to best use the money.

The message he received, he said, was that the money should be distributed ``promptly and fairly.''

``There was a strong sentiment that the victims themselves are in the best position to assess their own needs and to choose how best to use the funds in meeting those needs,'' Mitchell said.

The Red Cross' family gift program provided families of the deceased and those seriously injured with basic living expenses for the first year after that attack.

On Thursday, the organization announced plans to give additional gifts of about $45,000 to most of those families, meaning they will receive an average of $109,000 from the Red Cross.

Liz McLaughlin lost her husband, Robert, in the attacks, and has been closely monitoring Sept. 11 charities.

She said she was pleased the Red Cross was moving quickly to distribute the money and had ``recognized that those families affected by Sept. 11 are in the best and only position to decide how to use the overwhelming donations from the American public to help us through this very difficult time.''

About $80 million of the Liberty Fund will be used to provide for longer-term disaster relief over a three- to five-year period, including mental health and medical care.

The Red Cross was criticized for initial plans to spend some Liberty Fund donations on blood banks, community outreach and infrastructure improvements not directly related to the attacks. In November, the charity pledged to funnel donations entirely to those affected. Mitchell said the Red Cross acknowledged its errors and changed some of its policies.

``Regrettably, the focus on those mistakes has obscured the tremendous amount of good work that was done by the Red Cross to provide care and comfort to those in need,'' he said.

Mitchell, who has been lauded for his work to broker peaceful solutions to the conflicts in Northern Ireland and the Middle East, said he will continue to oversee the Liberty Fund for at least a year.