FOR 17 years, since soon after the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was blown apart by Timothy McVeigh, the Oklahoma City Community Foundation has been disbursing funds to help victims and their families pay for medical, educational and living expenses. Only in the past several days have questions arisen about the foundation's work.
Those questions and complaints come from a small handful of the hundreds of men, women and children who have turned to the foundation for assistance. Indeed the foundation has distributed $11.1 million to help 962 individuals, comprising 16,256 transactions.
Following the bombing, more than $40 million was given to Oklahoma charities to aid victims. Much of that was spent, but eventually $14.6 million was turned over to the foundation to aid bombing victims and their families. About $10 million remains today, the result, in part, of investment returns.
Some victims contacted the Tulsa World to say that their needs hadn't been met by the foundation, or that their requests for assistance were denied. This prompted a group to ask Gov. Mary Fallin last week to remove what's left in the bombing fund from the foundation's control so it can be divided among victims — a truly extreme step.
The head of the foundation, Nancy Anthony, says allegations that bombing survivors were denied payments for legitimate medical expenses are inaccurate or the result of misunderstandings. In a good move, the foundation has requested an audit of the bombing fund to help alleviate concerns about how it was administered.
Anthony has understandable concerns about trying to simply divide the remaining money in the fund among survivors and victims. “No. 1, I do not think it would be legal,” she said. “No. 2, I do not think it would be in the best interest of the people.”
Fanning the flames of discontent in some quarters is a memo she and two foundation colleagues wrote in February to trustees of the foundation and the bombing fund, suggesting $4.4 million in investment earnings be spent in ways that would not directly benefit survivors.
It's important to note that, as with all issues related to the bombing, these concerns about the foundation are hardly unanimous. One man whose two children required years of medical help after being seriously injured that day said the foundation has “really gone the extra mile” for his family and “is five-star, absolutely, top to bottom.”
But for a charity, while public donations are invaluable, public confidence is irreplaceable. Our concern is that the complaints about the foundation's oversight of the bombing fund could reduce citizens' confidence that cash gifts will be used as intended, which could reduce giving in future years for similar causes handled not just by the foundation — it administers about 1,300 nonprofit funds — but other organizations too.
Given the number of people affected by the bombing and the lifelong medical challenges of some survivors, it's unlikely any charitable fund could cover all associated costs for all victims for the rest of their lives. The fact there have been so few public complaints about the bombing fund during the past 17 years would seem to indicate the foundation has done its job well.
The audit will shed further light on this issue. Meantime, if legitimate demand for aid requires drawing down the bombing fund's reserves, so be it. That money will have served the purpose for which it was donated. And donors will feel greater confidence about giving to disaster relief funds.