Officials of a foundation holding $10 million in funds donated for the benefit of Oklahoma City bombing survivors say they believe divvying up the money among survivors would be a huge blunder.
“No. 1, I do not think it would be legal. No. 2, I do not think it would be in the best interest of the people,” said Nancy Anthony, president of the Oklahoma City Community Foundation, which oversees the Disaster Relief Fund, commonly known as the bombing fund.
For the past 17 years, the bombing fund has been providing assistance for medical expenses, mental health counseling, living expenses and postsecondary education costs for survivors and family members of individuals killed or critically injured in the April 19, 1995, bombing.
The explosion resulted in 168 deaths and injured hundreds more.
More than $40 million in donations flooded into various Oklahoma organizations after the disaster. Much of the money was quickly spent, but about $14.6 million eventually was consolidated into the Oklahoma City Community Foundation to provide for the long-term needs of bombing survivors.
The foundation since has distributed about $11.1 million for the benefit of 962 individuals through 16,256 transactions, but still has about $10 million in bombing funds because of interest earned on investments. The Red Cross of Central Oklahoma also has about $2 million in bombing donations still available.
Call for distribution
Controversy has erupted recently among survivors, some of whom have been calling for the foundation to distribute its $10 million in remaining bombing funds.
Even if it legally could be done, Anthony said deciding how to divide up the money would be a nightmare that would create bitter feelings among survivors with different perspectives about who should receive the most compensation.
Survivors are far from united on the issue.
Deloris Watson, whose grandson, P.J. Allen, was the youngest survivor of the day care, believes it is time to divvy up the money and dissolve the bombing fund.
Watson said the foundation has provided her family with a lot of financial assistance through the bombing fund, but she believes the survivors, themselves, are in better position to determine how money should be spent.
Jim Denny, 67, whose son, Brandon, and daughter, Rebecca, were severely injured in the bombing, said he is deeply appreciative of the way the bombing fund has been administered and would like it to keep operating in the same manner.
“We have had occasion to ask for help on some dental work and different things for our children,” he said. “They never disapproved a thing.”
“They've really gone the extra mile,” he said. “I think the Oklahoma City Community Foundation is five-star, absolutely, top to bottom.”
Pressure to dissolve the fund through cash payouts has come recently from some bombing survivors. They claim fund administrators have denied some financial requests for surgeries, education and other legitimate needs even though $10 million is available.
Adding fuel to the controversy is a February memo that Anthony and two colleagues wrote to foundation and fund trustees recommending that $4.4 million of investment earnings from bombing funds be set aside for purposes that would not directly benefit survivors.
The memo recommends establishing a $2 million endowment to train community people on how to respond to future disasters and establishing $1.5 million endowment that would provide annual earnings to the Oklahoma City National Memorial for survivor support and activities.
It also recommends setting aside $400,000 to assist other communities that experience disasters and $500,000 for long-term studies on things like how money can best be used to assist survivors of disasters.
So far, the foundation has provided $456,688 in interest earnings to the Oklahoma City National Memorial and $10,000 each in tornado relief funds to Alabama and Joplin, Mo., but the rest of the more than $10 million in bombing fund money is intact and available for use by Oklahoma bombing survivors, who can show legitimate needs, Anthony said.
Bombing survivor Falesha Joyner, 40, of Oklahoma City and some other survivors have told the Tulsa World they believe earnings from bombing funds should be reserved for direct assistance to Oklahoma City bombing survivors.
“I understand (there are) other disasters, but why not help us?” she asked.
Denny, however, said he approves of the expenditures.
“I have no problem with that,” he said. “I think that's good forethought to look to the future.”
Oklahoma City Community Foundation officials announced Thursday that they have asked for an audit of the Disaster Relief Fund in hopes of relieving any concerns about the way the fund was administered.
The Oklahoma City Community Foundation is an umbrella organization that administers about 1,300 nonprofit funds with combined assets of more than $632 million.
Administering the bombing fund is just a small part of the foundation's responsibilities, but one that takes up a large amount of staff members' time, Anthony said.
Anthony, foundation trustee Steve Mason and bombing fund trustee John Belt met Friday with The Oklahoman and Tulsa World to discuss the bombing fund and misconceptions they believe have arisen.
“We believe we have funded 100 percent of the eligible expenses for people under the rules that were put in place in 1995,” said Steve Mason, foundation trustee.
That includes keeping a commitment to pay the postsecondary education costs for children who lost one or both parents in the bombing and surviving children who were in the Murrah Federal Building day care when the bomb exploded.
Officials identified 213 children as being eligible for such funds, and to date the fund has paid for 171 to attend one or more semesters of college or technical school. Eleven have earned associate degrees or technical certificates, 51 have earned bachelor's degrees and four are still in high school and have not yet reached eligibility status, Anthony said.
The fund has not just handed out scholarships, Anthony said. It has counseled them and guided them in preparing for college, she said. Sometimes it has paid for tutoring, graduation announcements and ACT tests.
Likewise, the bombing fund has not just paid medical expenses, she said.
It also has provided case managers to help survivors get available assistance not just from the fund, but from Social Security, workers' compensation, insurance and other sources.
Anthony said she has read public claims by some bombing survivors that they were denied payments for legitimate medical and education expenses.
Those claims are “not accurate” or the result of misunderstandings, she said.
“There are no more conscientious people than the ones who work here,” Belt said. “To suggest that is not the case is simply wrong.”
Belt said if people want to be critical of the organization, they need to think about what would have happened if the foundation hadn't taken on the task.
At a glance
The bombing fund and the foundation