- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 3, 2002

Administrators of a special fund for D.C. families hurt financially by the September 11 terrorist attacks yesterday defended the program against criticism that it has been slow to distribute money to those in need.

The program will be changed to improve its efficiency, administrators said.

"It is a lot more flexible in the way it will go out," said Mary Lou Tietz, chairman of the District's Federal Emergency Management Agency Board, which oversees the September 11 fund and the D.C. Emergency Assistance Fund (DCEAF).

One major change will occur in the timetable for releasing money. Previously, all local recipient groups received money together without regard to need. The funds now will be administered separately case by case, and the next batch of relief money is expected to be released in the next two weeks.

The application forms in languages other than English also will be provided in coming weeks.

"In the aftermath of September 11, we chose [the D.C. Emergency Assistance Fund] because of their track record and experience," said Leigh Toney, spokeswoman with the deputy mayor's Office of Children, Youth and Families.

The office does not oversee the fund but receives monthly updates from the fund's board and meets monthly to discuss its activities.

"We have a great degree of confidence in it," Miss Toney said.

The Washington Times reported Monday that local administrators were having difficulty distributing money to needy families because of the stringent guidelines under the DCEAF.

The emergency fund was established in March 2000 to help city families who unexpectedly lose income pay rent and utilities.

To qualify, a person must have a documented history of making these payments and a documented emergency situation, must agree to work with a caseworker for 90 days, and demonstrate an ability to pay in the future.

D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams on Oct. 24 announced the creation of a special District Relief Fund to meet the needs of city residents affected by September 11.

Independence Federal Savings Bank is responsible for collecting donations. Home mortgage provider Fannie Mae donated $1 million to the fund on Halloween, and about $200,000 of that sum has been distributed.

Fannie Mae spokesman Alfred L. King said the company has no worries about the fund's timetable or structure.

"We did not make any restrictions on the money we gave because we wanted to help the city and we knew the city would have an apparatus in place to distribute the funds," Mr. King said.

Local administrators told The Times that DCEAF's "ability to pay" requirement had been a sticking point in getting relief money to needy people.

They said those who lost jobs as a result of the terrorist attacks should be viewed differently from others because many are in the hospitality industry and are not likely to find work or money soon.

"A lot of people have applied [for unemployment insurance] but are not getting the assistance, so they come in here," said Judy Hooks, a caseworker with the Greater Washington Urban League. "But we can't help them because they don't have an income."

Mrs. Tietz said creating separate guidelines for the September 11 funds would create confusion and that the ability-to-pay requirement has always been in place.

"For us, to track the funds separately would not be efficient," she said.

As the program is administered now, city residents can go to one of their local recipient groups and apply for assistance.

Residents in danger of losing their homes as a result of September 11 or whose primary wage-earner died in the attacks are eligible for up to $2,000 in emergency funds.

Residents are encouraged to contact the Answers Please hot line at 202/463-6211 for more information.


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