The outpouring of more than a half-billion dollars to help families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks is prompting debate among the agencies that have lined up to help - from the best way to give out money to how solicitations should be worded.
Yesterday, New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer found himself trying to persuade the American Red Cross, which has raised $211 million, to help with a proposed database that would keep track of the thousands of family members likely to seek help from a host of nonprofit agencies in the months and years to come.
Red Cross President Dr. Bernadine Healy said Wednesday that her organization would not share information with other agencies on people it had helped, out of concern for their privacy.
One of the most public faces of help during the tragedy, the Red Cross has been collecting $1 million contributions from such celebrities as Sandra Bullock and Julia Roberts, along with much larger corporate donations. It already has begun distributing tax-free grants of up to $30,000 from a $100 million gift fund for victims' immediate needs.
The United Way of New York City and the New York Community Trust have raised $283 million for their September 11th Fund, including $150 million from a two-hour telethon a week ago.
The total amount raised by all agencies was an estimated $600 million yesterday. At least $8 million of that has been collected through various agencies, corporations and drives in Central Maryland, said Larry E. Walton, president of the United Way of Central Maryland.
Spitzer, whose office regulates charities operating in New York, convened a meeting this week with 20 nonprofit and government agencies to begin coordinating dozens of funds set up around the country to help victims.
The first step would be establishing a database to keep track of requests and distributions, said Darren Dopp, a spokesman for Spitzer. Nonprofit organizations used such a database to record payments to victims of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, which killed 168.
Dopp said his office was "working with" Red Cross officials to try to come up with a compromise that would preserve confidentiality while avoiding duplication.
"We really need that [database] to ensure that there's fairness in the distribution of resources," Dopp said. "It's not a question of whether it gets done, but a question of how it gets done."
Meanwhile, the Red Cross has changed the way it is soliciting money for the disaster after donors questioned how it will be spent.
"What we've always said in our fund-raising language is that your donations will go to fund this and other disasters," said Kelly Alexander, a Red Cross spokeswoman.
In response to questions from donors, however, the Red Cross created a "Liberty Disaster Fund," separate from its general disaster relief fund, for contributions for victims of the attacks, she said.
That money will be used for the short- and long-term needs of people affected by the disaster. But if money is left over, Alexander said, it might be used for relief of future terrorist attacks and for training of Red Cross volunteers for emergencies that might involve chemical or biological weapons.
But spokesman Chris Thomas said the Red Cross expects it will need to raise at least an additional $150 million before any money is left for a future attack.