Although charities have reportedly spent two-thirds of the record $3.27 billion in disaster relief money raised for the victims of Hurricane Katrina last August, the United Jewish Communities still has more than half of the $28.5 million it raised and plans to spend it for human needs during the next two years, the organization said this week.
"We purposely held back money to be able to deal with intermediate and long-term needs," said Barry Swartz, senior vice president of the UJC, an umbrella organization of 155 Jewish federations and 400 independent communities across North America.
He said the UJC itself allocated $9.4 million in response to organizational requests for aid as well as through requests for proposals. And he said a number of local Jewish federations spent between $2 million and $3 million to help evacuees who came to their communities. "So if a group of [evacuees] came to New York, [UJA-Federation of New York] spent money helping them," he said.
Howard Feinberg, senior managing director of UJC Consulting, a division of UJC, said that about two-thirds of the $9.4 million had been disbursed within three months after the Aug. 29 hurricane. He said his organization’s focus has been to "fulfill its primary mission of providing for human service needs: getting people fed, clothed and out of harm’s way."
Asked about the requests the UJC received for assistance, Feinberg said: "We did not have a huge number of requests that were not approved, and if they were not they were out of the scope of our initial mandate."
Eight members of the UJC’s Emergency Committee, including Cheryl Fishbein, chair of UJA-Federation’s Emergency Committee, toured the Gulf region two weeks ago to speak with Jewish, political and community leaders in the affected areas of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. The 12,000 to 15,000 Jews living in these areas were among the 500,000 people affected by the costliest natural disaster in American history. Feinberg said the UJC money helped assist tens of thousands of people.
"We knew there would be immediate needs and that we could help to fill the void," Feinberg said. "But we as a system had to hold back and take a longer perspective about what would be needed to sustain the Jewish and general community for the next 18 to 24 months. We are concerned with being able to have an impact in the future."
The Washington Post reported Monday that more than $2 million of the $3.27 million raised by private nonprofit organizations it tracked went to help evacuees and other Katrina victims in the hours and days after the storm. It said the money was used to provide those in need with cash, food, temporary shelter, medical care, tarps for damaged homes and school supplies for displaced children.
Feinberg said the UJC is currently working with a consortium of groups in the devastated Gulf region to "identify their needs for moving forward.
"Hopefully we will be able to take that information and have it form the foundation for our long-range plan," he said. "I believe we should have [that plan] in place by the end of May, if not sooner."
"We know that in a focused way we can have a positive impact on the quality of people’s lives," Feinberg added. "From what I’ve seen, I think people in the Jewish community are committed to rebuilding their lives. … We are going to see where the needs are and see how it plays out over time. We do what we do well, and we will do what we can to be helpful."