Facing criticism for acting too slowly, the board overseeing the largest fund created after the Dec. 14 shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary school announced Tuesday that it will provide $4 million to 40 families affected by the massacre.
The families of the 20 first-graders and six adults killed, as well as families of 12 surviving first-graders and the two teachers who were injured, will receive money from the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation Inc., the volunteer board that is now in control of what has commonly been called the United Way Fund.
The group said that the $4 million will come from the fund that contains more than $11 million, although it does not provide a breakdown by victim. The board held a special meeting Friday and decided to form an emergency subcommittee to dole out the initial payments.
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"This initial release of funds and our schedule of activities in the next two weeks reflects the board's intention and efforts to balance a thoughtful, transparent process with the appropriate sense of urgency to meet the needs of the community", said Anne Ragusa, a member of the Foundation's Board of Directors.
The foundation plans on holding several public hearings to determine how the rest of the money will be spent. In addition a subcommittee will meet with victims' families, survivor families, injured teachers, first responders, teachers and school personnel over the next 2 weeks to determine how the initial $4 million will be distributed.
"The process is not as quick as some would like it to be but we tried to move as rapidly as we could,'' board member Dr. Charles Herrick said. "The families are anxious and concerned and have immediate needs and we are sensitive to that urgency."
But Herrick said the committee must also plan for longer term needs of children from the Sandy Hook School as they go through the school system.
"As the children of Sandy Hook go through our school system they are going to need help for years,'' Herrick said. "One of the things we picked up from other communities is the unanticipated long-term needs that increased over time for alcoholism, suicide attempts and depression."
It must determine who else will be eligible for payments, how much money each person should get and whether money should be set aside for other uses such as on-going counseling, to offset school security costs or to help build a memorial.
Several of the victims' families have complained to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in the past few weeks that the United Way was moving too slowly in determining how the funds would be handled. Malloy had initially expressed concerns about how any funds would be handled a few days after the massacre.
In response to the families' complaints Malloy's legal counsel Luke Bronin sent a strongly worded message to United Way officials last week that they were moving too slowly.
"The Governor remains deeply concerned that the process that the Fund is developing is far too slow, doesn't appear to prioritize getting funds quickly to the families and others most directly affected, and risks turning what has been, and should be, a unifying expression of support and unity into a lengthy, divisive process,'' Bronin wrote in a letter to Kim Morgan, the executive director of the United Way of Western Connecticut. The Courant obtained the correspondence through a Freedom of Information request.
In her response, obtained by The Courant, Morgan wrote that the fund was never meant for just the victims' families. She noted that the board was aware the families received $60,000 from other sources and that the board wanted to get additional input on how best to distribute the money.
"Of concern to the board is that while assisting the most affected families, that the first responders, teachers, and children who survived in Sandy Hook Elementary School will also experience long-term consequences from the tragedy. A portion of funds must help prevent and support these consequences," Morgan wrote.
"Every day many of us hear stories from families trying desperately to help their children of all ages, stories from first responders and teachers who fear for their peers' future, and stories from the many circles that exist in a tight-knit community (the girl scout leaders, the bus drivers, the soccer coaches, the grandparents, etc.)," she wrote. "These are people who will never call the governor's office, but are anticipating that funds will help those they love for years to come."
Malloy in Tuesday said he was encouraged by the committee's plan.
"I've been very clear that providing relief to those most directly affected by the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School needs to be a priority, and that funds should be made available as quickly as possible," he said. "Nothing can repair the damage that was done, but I do believe that the Foundation has an obligation to help those who were so terribly and permanently affected."
The United Way of Western Connecticut offered to oversee the fund for town officials with the understanding at that the town would take it over and determine how it would be distributed.
Earlier this month, The Courant reported that more than $15 million has been raised from all over the world but that no one was tracking where that money was going.
Many of the groups collecting the money sprouted up in reaction to the slayings. Many have not registered as charities with the state or the Internal Revenue Service.
Organizations are supposed to register as charities with the state Department of Consumer Protection if they plan to collect money in Connecticut. Since Dec. 14, about 30 groups have registered, according to state records. But many more have been established.
State officials earlier late last month sent a letter to 69 groups they identified as collecting money in response to the Newtown tragedy.
The letter, which was co-signed by state Attorney General George Jepsen and DCP Commissioner William M. Rubenstein, includes a survey that asks for specifics as to what exactly the groups are raising money for and seeks the approximate amount of money the group has raised.
It also asks whether the funds will be used solely for the victims of the tragedy and, if not, what percentage will be. It also asks the groups to identify services they have provided to the victims and what, if any, recipients have been identified.
The groups have a deadline of April 12 to respond. The results of the survey will be posted online by both the attorney general and consumer protection. The survey is voluntary, but officials hope that by posting the information online every charity will respond.
By far the group that has drawn the most criticism is what has become known as the United Way Fund because very little of the millions it has collected has been distributed. While some family members of victims took to social media to criticize the group, many other families have privately expressed their anger to the governor's office.
Many of the families have started their own private funds in their child's name.