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Queens Chronicle

Where did the Sandy aid money go?

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Posted: Thursday, July 18, 2013 10:30 am

What a disgrace: As of April, more than a third of the money raised by charitable organizations for Hurricane Sandy relief had not been spent, according to a report released Wednesday by state Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. At least $238 million of more than $575 billion that people contributed in the hopes of aiding their fellow man and woman in South Queens, the Rockaways and other hard-hit areas from Staten Island to Long Island and beyond was still just sitting there unused six months later.

And we’re not talking about ad hoc groups that just sprang up in response to the storm and maybe could be forgiven for not being all that efficient. We’re talking about 89 established nonprofit organizations including the Red Cross, which alone raised $300 million, more than half the total.

Not only has so much money been left idle when it could have gone to feed, clothe and house people who lost everything when the Oct. 29 storm hit, but it’s not even clear if all the money raised for Sandy relief was spent that way. Schneiderman, whose office has oversight power over charities that operate in the state, said he will be sending letters to 50 of the organizations “demanding greater accounting of Sandy-related contributions” to make sure they were spent the way donors expected them to be spent.

“We have a responsibility to the people who donated their hard-earned money to help our community rebuild to make sure that the contributions they made were used as advertised,” Schneiderman said during a press conference held in Breezy Point, where a fire caused by the storm destroyed well over 100 homes.

Joining the attorney general were several South Queens and Rockaway elected officials, all of whom criticized delays in spending donated funds and redirection of the money. Schneiderman said 17 of the organizations told his office they may use funds raised under the auspices of Sandy relief for other purposes, including responding to future disasters.

That might be wise if they were, say, municipalities building surpluses during good times, knowing that bad times will come along. But it’s not acceptable for groups that took donations from people who were told the money would be spent on one specific thing. The attorney general will be asking groups that are redirecting Sandy funds to instead give the money to organizations that are still serving the victims. We hope they agree to do so.

Welcome to the discussion.