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Millions raised for Oklahoma storm victims, but where will it go?

The vast majority of money raised by charitable organizations is being held in reserve for a second wave of need that officials expect to arise in coming months after insurance settlement checks are cashed and federal emergency assistance ends.
by Randy Ellis and Phillip O'Connor Modified: July 21, 2013 at 10:00 am •  Published: July 21, 2013

This spring's severe weather that killed 49 people and damaged thousands of central Oklahoma homes produced a broad outpouring of financial support for storm victims. Music stars staged benefit concerts, corporate titans pledged assistance and schoolchildren emptied their piggy banks.

The two largest charitable organizations involved in the recovery, the Red Cross and United Way, so far have raised more than $50 million for storm relief. Untold millions more came from dozens of church groups, volunteer organizations and others.

The Salvation Army, for example, raised, $12 million. Catholic Charities raised $2.2 million.

So just where will all the money go?

Of the $50 million raised by the United Way and Red Cross, about $14 million went for disaster assistance in the first days after the storm. That included feeding emergency workers, operating shelters and providing storm victims with necessities like food, clothes and gas.

The vast majority of money raised by charitable organizations is being held in reserve for a second wave of need that officials expect to arise in coming months after insurance settlement checks are cashed and federal emergency assistance ends.

It's at that point that many Oklahomans quit seeking help, even though a large amount of charitable aid may still be available to them for everything from minor home repairs to medical care, said Debby Hampton, president and chief executive officer of the local United Way organization.

A coalition of charitable groups estimates storm victims will need at least $29 million in assistance beyond the money paid by insurance companies and the Federal Emergency Management Agency, a figure that seems well within their reach. The question is whether it will get to all those in need.

“My biggest concern on this disaster is we are dealing with a lot of individuals who don't even know how to ask for help because they have never had to ask for help before,'' Hampton said.

Tracking system

Key to distributing the millions of dollars in long-term aid will be a case management system the volunteer organizations will use. The idea behind the web-based system is to ensure storm victims receive uniform treatment and the assistance they need with as little hassle as possible, said Patrick Raglow, executive director of Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City.

After registering with FEMA — regardless of whether they qualify for FEMA assistance — storm victims can call a toll-free hotline at (866) 477-7276 where they will be linked with a case manager who can assist in tapping into the millions of dollars available from nonprofit agencies. Officials estimate that on average each family affected by the storm will need about $7,500 in assistance, some much more, some a lot less. The types of assistance provided vary considerably from family to family. A wide range of help is available, including rent and utility assistance, car down payments and apartment deposits.

“We match money, material and muscle with client need,” said Lura Cayton, a FEMA liaison to volunteer agencies.

Charities anticipate handling thousands of cases initially, including many that can be readily resolved. Families with insurance, high incomes and savings tend to recover fairly quickly.

“Obviously, the most difficult people are the people who were underinsured or already struggling paycheck to paycheck,” Raglow said.

Charity officials also are anticipating a tremendous need for long-term counseling services given that the Moore was hit by two tornadoes in less than two weeks and that schools were destroyed. A tornado also ripped through Moore in 1999 devastating parts of the city. All those events combine to create a lot of trauma, Hampton said.

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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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by Phillip O'Connor
Enterprise Editor
O'Connor joined the Oklahoman staff in June, 2012 after working at The Kansas City Star and St. Louis Post-Dispatch for a combined 28 years. O'Connor, an Oklahoma City resident, is a graduate of Kansas State University. He has written frequently...
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