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IRS disaster fund advice followed in OKC, ignored elsewhere

Within months of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, local charities were advised by the IRS that using donated funds to make lump sum payments to survivors would not be proper.
by Randy Ellis Published: November 19, 2012

Much of the money was quickly spent on emergency needs, but about $14.6 million eventually was consolidated into one of about 1,300 funds managed by the Oklahoma City Community Foundation.

The foundation paid case managers to contact individuals injured in the bombing and surviving family members of individuals who died in the attack.

Those case managers contacted survivors at least monthly for three years and continue to contact those with ongoing needs 17 years later, said Nancy Anthony, foundation president. The case managers helped survivors get whatever benefits they could, including insurance payments, social security checks and workers' compensation payments, Anthony said.

They also arranged for payments to be made from the bombing fund for necessary medical, counseling, educational and daily living expenses not covered by other sources, she said.

An education fund was established to pay for postsecondary education expenses not covered by other scholarships for children injured in the Murrah Building day care and children who lost parents in the bombing.

Anthony said many survivors suffered from severe depression and health issues.

The case manager system has provided them ongoing guidance that would have been missing if lump sum payments had been distributed, she said.

There also still is money available to pay for medical and mental health care needs that have developed through the years that might not have been known immediately after the bombing, she said.

Some survivors say the fund has not been nearly as helpful as administrators describe.

For example, Falesha Joyner, 40, of Oklahoma City, told The Oklahoman she lost her right ear and use of her right arm in the bombing. Joyner said initially she was given assistance, but was cut off after she began receiving Social Security checks, even though those checks didn't nearly cover her medical and other needs.

Others say the foundation has been generous and flexible in providing assistance.

Nicole Williams-Flick, who was pregnant when she lost her husband in the bombing, said her daughter was born with special needs.

Not only has the foundation paid for things people might expect, like co-pays on medicine, it also has paid for summer tutors to keep her daughter from regressing and helped locate a funding source for nearly $500 for clothing and equipment necessary to be a varsity cheerleader.

Williams-Flick said her daughter has grown up in the Bridge Creek School District and children in the community are very supportive and protective of her.

“The cheer thing has done wonders for her,” Williams-Flick said.

Anthony said she has read allegations about the fund that are “not accurate” or the results of miscommunications, but can't publicly discuss discrepancies because of confidentiality requirements.

Communities that have divvied up donations among survivors haven't avoided criticism, either.

Disagreements have arisen over such things as how much various injuries should be worth and how much should go to injured individuals compared to family members of individuals who were killed.

There also have been disagreements over whether each lost life should be valued the same, or whether families of high wage earners who were killed should receive more because they face a greater loss of expected lifetime earnings.

by Randy Ellis
Investigative Reporter
For the past 30 years, staff writer Randy Ellis has exposed public corruption and government mismanagement in news articles. Ellis has investigated problems in Oklahoma's higher education institutions and wrote stories that ultimately led to two...
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