Red Cross Funds for Survivors Hardly Publicized

August 20–In front of Red Cross offices in both Houston and New Orleans, picket lines were formed by survivors of the federal flood during Hurricane Katrina. They demonstrated to emphasize the necessity and speediness with which the local Red Cross agencies should disperse the remaining donations earmarked for Katrina relief. The Red Cross, in an unfamiliar role, is engaging in “long-term” recovery because of its excess donations in a little-publicized program known as “Means-to-Recovery.”

Thirty people arrived on Monday morning, August 20, at the Red Cross offices in Metairie, Louisiana, a suburb of New Orleans. Red Cross guards falsely warned that the picketers on the sidewalk were on private property, but picketers maintained their ground even after guards called local police. The picketers then marched to Veterans Boulevard, a thoroughfare of strip mall-suburbia, and back to the Red Cross office to announce their demands. One woman held a sign stating: “RED CROSS, Why do we have to jump through HOOPS for OUR money?” Though the Red Cross, in the face of Peoples’ Hurricane’s resistance, reduced the application from twenty to eight pages, many feel that they have already succumbed to enough discrimination and paternalism by bureaucracies like FEMA and Road Home.

As it currently is instituted, the Red Cross Means-to-Recovery program gives up to $20,000 to each family or individual that applies, but each applicant must go through a case manager who determines and vouches for their needs. The money never goes to the family to decide their needs for themselves, but instead the Red Cross deals directly with vendors such as Home Depot and Lowe’s. The average applicant receives around $10,000.

Malcolm Suber, national outreach coordinator of the Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund, told the New York Times that “What we want people to understand is that these are hard-working, poor working people, and they don’t want to be treated like children in this insulting process in which they have to sit down with a counselor.”

PHRF and the Red Cross convened a closed door meeting shortly after PHRF held a press conference on July 23 to discuss the shortcomings of the Means-to-Recovery program. In that meeting, Red Cross allegedly offered PHRF funds to hire case managers if they were unsatisfied with the Red Cross’ performance. After PHRF met to discuss this offer, the board rejected it, reasoning that it was too large of a project for them to take on and would only make the public hold them responsible for Red Cross’ mistakes.

A more startling practice of the Red Cross, which has no more than two case managers, is the allocation of monies to organizations with case workers, such as the Lutheran Relief Services. In effect, the Red Cross has outsourced the application process of the “Means-to-Recovery” program to other organizations, which are not accountable to the Red Cross.

Amber McZeal, a federal flood survivor now in San Francisco who was a volunteer case manager, attests that several organizations, including Lutheran Social Services under the United Methodists Committee on Relief, received funds from the Red Cross in agreement that they would push through a certain amount of applications, but never completed them. McZeal worked with the Northern California branch of Lutheran Social Services as a volunteer case worker. Despite the organization receiving funds to hire case workers, she “did not receive a dime.”

In her experience, case managers and their organizations receive $2,500 for managing eight cases. “Organizations are receiving this funding, this case work funding and not doing the work or not hiring case workers because there’s only one in the city.”

“Unnecessary, redundant information,” she says of the lengthy application. “If they put your social [security number] into any one of their databases, they know exactly how much you’ve received from the Red Cross, from anybody. ”

The Red Cross counters that case management is considered a “best practice” for accountability to its donors and to prevent fraud. It also defended the publicity of the program by claiming it was available on its website and that Red Cross employees went door-to-door soliciting New Orleanians for the program. Approaching the situation only technologically leaves out most of the “needy” survivors that the Red Cross claim to want to help, while it was only when Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund told community leaders of the program in July that news spread from door-to-door and ear-to-ear among neighbors. Shortly thereafter, PHRF estimates more than 10,000 people showed up at their offices on the third weekend in July. Long lines bended off of Claiborne Avenue under the interstate where PHRF’s office is located. People waited in excess of an hour for a copy of the application.

Begun in October 2006, the Red Cross initially did not publicize “Means-to-Recovery” and chose to train case managers across the country to handle the applications. Even after it became public, applications rarely came in and only $12 million was allocated to vendors after 10 months. Red Cross estimates that only 4,000 more families can be helped in their program, which they budget at $38 million, though it was initially $71 million. Red Cross officials state that it was reduced as other previous hurricane expenditures were totaled.

McZeal and others often see the government’s response to poor black victims in New Orleans as unduly hesitant and suspicious rather than generous. “As opposed to a disaster like 9-11 where people were just issued checks,” McZeal compared. Good intentions and donations are often subverted and diverted into the salaries of bureaucracies and people looking for economic opportunities in the federal flood disaster. “We’re dealing with money that’s floating around in the hands of so many people in this country in the names of Katrina victims. We’re purposefully being victimized over and over again.”

See the Means-to-Recovery application here.

Peoples’ Hurricane Relief Fund Demands on Red Cross:


  1. Immediate disbursal of all funds received for Katrina-Rita Survivors with a target date set for completion.
  2. Elimination of the Case Manager process and implementation of a swift, simple process for getting funds into the hands of needy survivors.
  3. Total Accountability for all funds received and disbursed. A ‘dollars-to-demographics’ accounting of funds received for survivors.
  4. Immediate identification and release of any funds that were directed to other agencies for Katrina-Rita relief.
  5. Congressional and local investigations into the use of Katrina-related funds by all government and non-profit agencies.
Published in: on August 23, 2007 at 2:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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