Oklahoma City bombing fund administrators dispute televised comments

Critical comments made in the news media by some victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing have not given the public an accurate or complete picture of how the bombing relief fund has been handled, fund administrators contend.
by Randy Ellis Modified: March 6, 2013 at 10:28 pm •  Published: March 6, 2013

Public reports last year that the fund still has that much money — more than 17 years after the bombing — have sparked criticism from some survivors that the foundation has been too tightfisted in releasing money to meet their needs.

Fueling the controversy was a memo that foundation President Nancy 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 recommended establishing a $2 million endowment to train community people on how to respond to future disasters and establishing a $1.5 million endowment that would provide annual earnings to the Oklahoma City National Memorial for survivor support and activities.

It also recommended 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.

As of last November, the foundation had provided $456,688 in interest earnings to the Oklahoma 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 still available for victims, foundation officials said.

Some members of a survivors' group called the Survivor Tree Committee said survivors still have a lot of unmet needs and are advocating for remaining funds to be divvied up among survivors and the fund disbanded.

The NBC bombing report featured an interview with Kenneth Feinberg, a Washington, D.C., attorney who was called in to determine how government and donated funds should be divided up among victims following the Virginia Tech after shooting; Aurora, Colo., theater shooting; 9/11 terrorists attack; BP oil spill; and Indiana State Fair pavilion collapse.

Feinberg said be believes the best thing for survivors is to divide the donated money up among them and let them do with the money as they see fit.

IRS rules factor in

Former Gov. Keating disagrees with that approach and foundation officials say IRS regulations don't allow it.

Keating said Oklahoma officials did not have the same resources available to them after the Oklahoma City bombing as New York officials did after the 9/11 terrorists' attack.

Following the 9/11 attack, the federal government created a $7 billion victims compensation fund.

Feinberg helped divvy that money up, giving families amounts ranging from $250,000 to $7.1 million, depending on the wealth and annual incomes of the victims, according to a report in CNN Money.

Families of wealthy, high-earning victims were given more money under the rationale that they had suffered a greater loss in anticipated income.

Keating said he found that allocation formula “offensive.”

“I take a special offense that Ken Feinberg would criticize the process that thoughtful and decent and family-focused people in Oklahoma City made,” Keating said. “We didn't have billions of dollars from the U.S. government.”

Instead, Oklahoma officials had about $10 million that came from generous donors, he said.

If that money had been divided among the 1,000 or so people who have received money from the bombing fund, each would have only received about $10,000, he said.

Keating said he doesn't believe the fund's limitations are fully appreciated by people like Deloris Watson, the grandmother of injured bombing victim P.J. Allen.

Watson appeared on the NBC show and was critical of fund administrators for requiring bombing victims to seek Medicaid and other funding sources before receiving money from the bombing fund.

Keating said it is his understanding that the fund has provided about $325,000 in assistance for Allen, much more than the $10,000 or so he would have received if the money had just been divvied up.

“I made a battlefield decision when this money started coming in,” Keating said.

Parents who lost children were given money to bury their children and money for counseling, he said.

Children who lost parents received much more. They were promised money to pay the costs of college, anywhere in the country, that were not paid by other scholarships.

The fund also has tried to pay for unmet medical, counseling and living expense needs stemming from the bombing.

The goal has been to meet the “greatest needs for the longest time,” he said.

Watson said she wasn't trying to create the impression that the foundation hasn't helped her grandson.

“They've done a lot for P.J.,” she said. “It's just that there are things that they didn't do that we all feel that they should do.”

Many of those things would not have taken a lot of money, she said.


by Randy Ellis
Capitol Bureau 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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I take a special offense that Ken Feinberg would criticize the process that thoughtful and decent and family-focused people in Oklahoma City made. We didn't have billions of dollars from the U.S. government.”

Former Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating,

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