September 11:

Interim Report on the Response of Charities

GAO-02-1037: Published: Sep 3, 2002. Publicly Released: Sep 4, 2002.

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Some surveys suggest that as many as two-thirds of American households have donated money to charitable organizations in response to the terrorist attacks of September 11. Although it may be difficult to precisely tally the amount of money raised, 34 of the larger charities have reported raising an estimated $2.4 billion since September 11. Of the estimated $2.4 billion reported collected by the larger charities, about two-thirds were reported to have been distributed. Fund distribution rates vary widely among these charities, in part because of differences in their operating mission. Charities reported distributing these funds for a broad range of assistance to the families of those killed or injured, for those more indirectly affected through the loss of their jobs or homes, and for disaster relief workers. To distribute aid, charities had to make extensive efforts to identify victims and survivors as there were no uniform contact lists for families of victims; charity officials also said privacy issues affected the sharing of information among charities. Charities also faced challenges in providing aid to non-English speaking people in need of assistance; some charities have focused their efforts on these individuals. To minimize fraud by individuals, most charities required applicants to provide documentation certifying their needs and the relationship of their need to the disaster. Coordination of efforts among charities was constrained by several factors, including charities' need to maintain the confidentiality of their clients, the lack of uniform victims lists, and the huge scale and complex nature of the event and its aftermath. Charities, government agencies, watchdog groups, and survivors' organizations reported to GAO lessons learned about how to improve the charitable aid process in future disasters. First, good information about and easy access to available assistance could help survivors in the recovery process. Next, public and private agencies could better assist survivors by coordinating and sharing information with each other. Further, public education could clarify charities' role in disasters and help maintain the public's confidence in charities. Finally, planning for the role of charitable aid in disasters could aid the recovery process for individuals and communities.

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