Newtown Families Criticize Donation Payout Proposal

fromWSHU

After the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, millions of dollars were donated to help the people of Newtown, Conn. Who gets that money, and how it's divided, has become a contentious issue for families already struggling with their grief.

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After the Newtown shootings last December, millions of dollars were donated to the families of the victims of that tragedy. And much of that money has yet to be distributed.

As Craig LeMoult, of member station WSHU, reports, the process has led to complaints from the families of the victims.

CRAIG LEMOULT, BYLINE: In a gym in the basement of Newtown's town hall last night, Ken Feinberg spoke to families and community members who came to hear about what's going to happen to millions collected for Newtown by the United Way.

KEN FEINBERG: Solomon himself could not distribute this money in a fashion that would please everybody. It can't be done.

LEMOULT: Feinberg should know. He's handled funds for victims of Sept. 11th, the Virginia Tech shootings, the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and other catastrophes. In this case, Feinberg was brought in just to advise a committee that was tasked with distributing $7.7 million to the 40 families most directly impacted by the shooting.

FEINBERG: Is the money adequate? Of course not. No amount is adequate.

LEMOULT: In Feinberg's draft proposal, 95 percent of that money would go to the families of the 26 victims who were killed. That comes to $281,000 per victim. Two adult staff who were shot in the school would split $150,000. And the 12 families of surviving children, who were in the classrooms and witnessed the shootings, will get $20,000 each.

Nobody at the meeting debated the division of that $7.7 million. The concern of Newtown residents like Yolie Moreno was, what's happening with the rest of the money.

YOLIE MORENO: There was a figure of $11.6 million, that you stated that you had received. And I'm wondering what the discrepancy is.

LEMOULT: The answer is that the foundation is holding on to about $4 million, for now. Its chairman, Dr. Charles Herrick, says they looked at how other communities dealt with funds after tragedies like this. And while the quick and easy solution would be to get all the money out the door as quickly as possible, it's not necessarily the right decision.

DR. CHARLES HERRICK: Because many of those communities that followed that, found themselves, years later, struggling with financing ongoing problems that were directly related to their tragedy.

LEMOULT: Herrick says they need to preserve some of the money to support long-term needs in the community, like counseling for other children at Sandy Hook Elementary.

HERRICK: And they will be going through the Newtown school system for the next 10 to 15 years. And so the money was preserved specifically for them, and those who were directly impacted - including the first-responders.

LEMOULT: Herrick says a third of donations came from individual donors; a third from foundations; and a third from corporations. The foundation assumed individual donors intended money to go directly to the families. He says some letters from foundations and corporations said they wanted some of their money to support long-term needs of community.

Victim families argue the fundraising was done using their names, and all the money should go to them. David Lewis' grandson Jesse was one of the children killed.

DAVID LEWIS: It's about the process, to make sure it's impeccable; to make sure, when you write a $10 check to somebody, it gets to that somebody.

LEMOULT: Lewis says despite all the disagreement over how the money is divided, what's really touched him has been the generosity of people all over the world.

LEWIS: Through this god-awful thing, you see a light, a light in human compassion that's - that makes you want to go on.

LEMOULT: The committee has until Monday to finalize its plan for distributing money to the families.

For NPR News, I'm Craig LeMoult in Connecticut.

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