DALLAS (CBS11 I-TEAM) – The Red Cross has collected more than $429 million in Hurricane Harvey relief donations, but some donors, flood victims, along with Texas Governor Greg Abbott are asking where has all that money gone.
On Wednesday, Abbott revealed on a conference call with reporters that he has had several conversations with Red Cross President Gail McGovern expressing his concern that the money is not getting into the hands of those who need it.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Red Cross fired back saying the organization has been transparent and will reach out to the Governor again to address any concerns.
Much of the money collected by the Red Cross for Harvey has been spent on meals, shelters, and direct financial assistance to flood victims.
The Red Cross has authorized more than $229 million in direct financial assistance to more than 573,000 households impacted by Harvey. The financial assistance comes in the form of $400 gifts.
The Red Cross has also released an estimated budget on how it plans to spend all of the donated Harvey money but when the CBS 11 I-Team asked how much of the donated money the Red Cross has spent so far on Harvey relief efforts, officials there could not answer.
“I haven’t received nothing,” said frustrated flood victim, Kerry Byrns. “I haven’t received two nickels that you can rub together.”
Byrns said he lost everything he owned when floodwaters swept away his trailer and truck in Orange County, Texas. “My truck just took off down the road by itself,” he said. “They still haven’t found my dang truck.”
For four weeks, Byrns stayed at a Red Cross shelter in Dallas.
He says all he needs is a little financial assistance to get back on his feet, but so far, he said he hasn’t received any money from the Red Cross or any other charity.
When Byrns applied for $400 in emergency assistance from the Red Cross he was denied and was not given a reason why.
McGovern told the CBS 11 News I-Team, “I wish we could give these $400 gifts to everyone that was even marginally impacted by Hurricane Harvey but we can’t. We are focusing on people with the greatest need.”
McGovern also told the I-Team when all the money is spent, 91-percent of it will have gone towards relief efforts. “We are really proud of the fact that we keep our overhead low, so 91 cents of every dollar will go to support our relief efforts,” she said.
U.S. Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) said he is skeptical of the Red Cross’ claim.
“I’m not from Missouri but I say show me,” Grassley said. “Transparency brings accountability and it makes sure you can demonstrate that 90 percent of your money goes there.”
The Republican senator said when an earthquake devastated Haiti in 2010, the Red Cross had problems showing his office where the all the donated money was going.
In a video from January 2010, posted on the Red Cross YouTube page, while in Haiti McGovern said, “I’m more committed than ever to make sure that 91 cents of every dollar goes to the Haitian people.”
However, according to an investigation by Grassley, 91 cents of every dollar donated for Haiti relief did not go to relief efforts.
His investigation reported 25.4 percent of the $500 million donated to the Red Cross for Haiti relief went towards administrative costs and overhead.
His report also notes the Red Cross tried to “terminate” the government’s audit and was “not fully corporative” with providing Congress detailed financial records.
The Red Cross disagrees with the findings of Grassley’s investigation and stands firm on its claim that 91 cents of every dollar goes directly to those with the greatest need.
Grassley said he still wants people to give to the Red Cross but said donors deserve to know exactly where their money is going which is why he has introduced the Red Cross Transparency Act of 2017.
If the bill passes, the Red Cross would be required to give Congress access to its records, including its financial transactions.
The I-Team asked McGovern if she would support the Red Cross Transparency Act.
She said, “We are a charity. We are not a government agency and we don’t want to add to our overhead by responding to inspection after inspection.”
The Red Cross is not the only charity that collected large amounts for Harvey recovery efforts.
Houston Texan star defensive lineman J.J. Watt raised $37 million. Last week, Watt named the four nonprofits that will receive most of the donated money (St. Bernard Project, Save the Children, Feeding America, and Americares).
The YouCaring.com website Watt used to collect the money does not charge a platform fee. It is the only crowdfunding platform that does not. However, the crowdfunding site does use third-party credit card processors to collect money, charging 2.9 percent plus $0.30 per transaction. Based on the $37 million raised by Watt, $1.1 million went towards processing fees.
Houston’s mayor led collection efforts for the Hurricane Harvey Relief Fund. The fund has so far collected more than $79 million. Less than 10 percent of the fund’s money so far has been given out to organizations in the community.