Spitzer Testifies At House Hearing On Disaster Relief Efforts

Attorney General Spitzer today testified before Congress about charitable efforts for victims of the September 11th attack, discussing his efforts to ensure a coordinated and prompt response by the charitable groups involved that to date have received over $1.2 billion in donations from the public.

Speaking before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce's Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Spitzer said, "Our response to the tragedy must be guided by a single overriding principle, which is that the needs of the victims and their families must be addressed as promptly and coherently as possible."

Spitzer testified that five critical areas need to be addressed to help ensure that the public's generosity reaches the victims in a prompt and equitable fashion, with as little duplication and fraud as possible. Specifically, the relief effort must:

  • Make it as easy as possible for victims to learn what relief is available and then be able to access that aid;
  • Create a victims database to facilitate coordination among the charities, promote fairness in the distribution process, and avoid duplication of effort as much as possible;
  • Provide the public with information about the amount of donations received and expended on a regular basis;
  • Investigate and prosecute any instances of fraud and abuse; and
  • Ensure that a working group of charities and victims' advocates is established to identify problems and gaps in service.

Since shortly after the attacks, Spitzer has been working to put together a confidential, shared database of victims' requests for aid. Virtually all of the major charitable groups involved in the relief effort, including the Red Cross, United Way, and Salvation Army, have agreed to participate. Last week, the Attorney General announced that a number of nationally-known private firms have agreed to donate their services to create and operate the database.

"To a large degree, we're fortunate in that we can follow the lead set by those in Oklahoma City where a confidential database was formed and a working group was established following the bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in 1995," said Spitzer. "The public has opened its hearts and its wallets to an unprecedented degree, it is now incumbent on the charities to ensure that the goodwill of the public toward the victims is fulfilled."

The Attorney General also spoke of his hope of streamlining the application process. Spitzer will be speaking with the charities about developing a common application form, so that the victims do not have to individually apply to dozens of different groups.

Spitzer noted that his office has already established a public website, www.wtcrelief.info, which lists some 190 groups involved in the relief effort. The website offers both victims and donors the ability to find out which groups are offering aid, as well as a search function that permits the user to punch in key words like "college education" or "mortgage assistance" and be linked to those groups offering that specific help.

Spitzer concluded his testimony by saying, "Although each charity involved has its own unique mission, they all must recognize that the events of September 11th demand a team response. Only through an ongoing, cooperative effort can we possibly hope to ensure meaningful and sustained care for the victims of this terrible tragedy. This coordination is essential if the charities are to earn and keep the confidence of the American people."

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