- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2001

Leaders of the American Red Cross faced a barrage of blistering questions on their handling of September 11 relief funds after two widows testified about their travails at a House hearing yesterday.
Elizabeth McLaughlin, whose husband had worked at Cantor Fitzgerald and who had an infant son, said she created an 18-page spreadsheet after September 11 to keep track of all the charities.
She quickly received a check from the Red Cross for $30,000.
"I thought I was doing everything right," she told the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations.
Despite Mrs. McLaughlin's master's degree in not-for-profit management, she is losing ground on getting aid and the bills are accumulating.
"I don't think contributors to the various September 11th funds thought that their donations would be caught up in so much red tape," she said. "I am tired. I want to spend time with my son."
Russa Steiner, whose husband had worked at Marsh Inc., said she spent days searching for him and began seeking aid only in early October. As of yesterday morning, she had received less than $4,000, one semester of tuition for her college-age son, a scholarship for another son and the promise of a free meal during the holiday season from the Salvation Army.
Before the hearing yesterday afternoon, she added, the Red Cross gave her a check for $27,500.
"Let me ask the $564 million question," Rep. James C. Greenwood, Pennsylvania Republican and chairman of the subcommittee, asked Dr. Bernadine Healy, president of the Red Cross.
"Can you assure the American people that every dime of those contributions will go to heal the wounds" of families who were struck by the terror attacks?
"That is absolutely the commitment we have made," she answered.
But her detailed explanations about how the $564 million in the Liberty Fund would be spent soon tried the patience of the congressmen.
Around $300 million was estimated as needed for the immediate response to the September 11 attacks, including cash gifts to families, she said.
The remaining $200 million likely would be needed for such things as "investments in volunteer mobilization, chapter development for response to weapons of mass destruction, expanded blood security and continuity of operations efforts," she said. Stockpiling frozen blood is another important activity, given the potential of future attacks, she added.
"As important as frozen blood is, I don't think anyone wrote a check for frozen blood," Rep. Peter Deutsch, Florida Democrat and ranking member of the subcommittee, said dryly.
New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, who sat next to Dr. Healy on the panel, said it was an "anathema" that money Americans gave for the victims' families was ending up "sequestered" into long-term Red Cross plans.
When the American people wrote checks for $100, they had the expectation that it would go to the families, not for "continuity" or "reprograms," Mr. Spitzer said.
Dr. Healy tried to explain that the Red Cross, as a service organization, didn't intend to raise money "to give $200,000 to every family."
"You are really tenacious in your spin," said Rep. Charles Bass, New Hampshire Republican.
Rep. Billy Tauzin, Louisiana Republican and chairman of the committee, asked Dr. Healy why the Red Cross recently said it would accept no more donations to the Liberty Fund, when families were still in need and the Red Cross had announced it would use funds for other needs. "Don't you find that awfully strange?" he said.
Dr. Healy, who recently said she would be stepping down as the Red Cross' leader, tried to explain that the Red Cross board was concerned about being prepared for "the threats we are facing."
Rep. Bart Stupak, Michigan Democrat, was unimpressed.
"Really, it's just plain spin" to say that the Red Cross didn't think its future needs would be met, he said, adding that "the Red Cross will have a lot of explaining to do" over the next couple of months.
Other charities appear tomorrow before a hearing of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on oversight.


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