- The Washington Times - Friday, November 2, 2001

"Bill O'Reilly said they're ripping off America." That's what my mother greeted me with the other night when I got home. Now, understand, my mother and I have been having lots of conversations like this since September 11. That is when she began her blue-suit patrol that is, she listens to the press briefings and press conferences during the day and the talking heads in the evening. And then, we chew over them during dinner. Although I wish she'd return to her pre-September 11 ritual of taking a daily stroll to pick up out-of-town newspapers, I value her news insight.
Indeed, what my mother heard Mr. O'Reilly say is worthy of me repeating to you and you repeating to someone else. "I received a letter from Jacqueline Eaton who lives in Long Island," Mr. O'Reilly told viewers of his Fox show, "The O'Reilly Factor," before launching into the letter, which reads, in part:
"My husband, Robert, was killed in the World Trade Center attack, and I am writing to you, Mr. O'Reilly, out of desperation and frustration. At every turn, I hear about another fund established for the victims' families. To date, I have received less than $1,500, yet I have paid 10 visits to register with various agencies… . In addition to losing my husband, I feel as though I am losing any sense of pride and dignity. Why do I need to beg for donated money?"
Mrs. Eaton is not alone in her sentiments. Not only has Mr. O'Reilly received hundreds of similar letters, but donors are getting pretty fed up. In fact, many have already told their credit-card companies not to honor donations because organizations such as the American Red Cross have yet to dish our their dough.
I really can't blame them. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if more folks began reneging on their pledges after what we learned last Friday.
That's the day the question of how to disburse the September 11 funds led Dr. Bernadine Healy to announce at a press conference that she is stepping down as president of the American Red Cross. One reason she stepped down was she disagreed with board policy that dictated money donated specifically for September 11 be co-mingled with other Red Cross donations. Of course, it shouldn't be. Of course, we didn't think it would be.
That America has already poured its compassion out to the tune of more than $1.4 billion resoundingly answers no to Mrs. Eaton's question about whether she has to beg for donated money. And the fact that 15,000 children lost either one or both parents on September 11 speaks volumes about why that money must be dished out and accounted for sooner rather than later.
Fortunately, Rep. J.D. Hayworth, Arizona Republican, agrees. "I think it's very important that we make it part of the public record exactly what is being done with the funds accumulated by so many charities, including the Red Cross, that are designated for the families of those who perished September 11," Mr. Hayworth told Cheryl Wetzstein of The Washington Times. He also said he wants to hold congressional hearings to allow families "to come forward if they're having difficulty receiving help.
Now, counting dollars and accounting for dollars are two entirely different matters. And both need to be reconciled.
Nearly half of the $1 billion-plus donated so far, or $547 million as of Monday, has been pledged to the Red Cross. But victims are questioning the good will of other organizations including the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, Salvation Army and United Way as well as the grueling experiences of trying to get government-related relief.
My personal blue-suit patrol source informed me of one woman, for example, who, like Mrs. Eaton, has filled out forms 10 times to get emergency relief, and has yet to receive one thin dime.
This isn't the way emergency relief is supposed to work.
"The donated money does not get to the families very quickly … Some families have received no donations at all," Mr. O'Reilly said in his Oct. 29 column. He also cited, in that same column, a USA Today story that also said less than 10 percent of the $1.4 billion has actually been distributed. Hmm.
So it seems, America, that, on one hand, we did indeed rise to the unfortunate occasions that stemmed from the September 11 terror attacks. But our work is not yet done. Now, we have to take further action to make sure that those folks we call "victims" the orphans, the widows and widowers, the unemployed and homeless reap what the American Red Cross and other relief agencies have sown because of our wallets (and giving hearts).
The blue-suit patrol thanks you, and I thank you. Mr. O'Reilly, tough gun that he is, might thank you, too.
More important than thank-yous, though, is knowing that we are doing the right thing trying to help those who cannot help themselves.

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