Newtown Families to Receive Donated Funds amid Dispute
A draft proposal presented at a town hall meeting in Newtown, Connecticut on Thursday evening states that the families of each of the 26 victims of the horrific school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School will receive $281,000 in donated funds.
According to the Hartford Courant, a committee headed by former federal Judge Alan Nevas held a hearing to discuss how to distribute $7.7 million of the $11.4 million collected in donations since the tragedy last December.
The proposal distributes 95% of the $7.7 million to the families of the victims by the Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc. In addition, the 12 families of children who survived the shootings will each receive $20,000. The two teachers who were wounded will obtain a total of $150,000 split between them.
Kenneth Feinberg, an attorney who only advised the families – but who some families wanted appointed to distribute the funds – said the committee plans to finalize the distribution amounts by Monday. Families are required to file their claims for funds by August 2nd.
“The money will be out the door to the families by August 15th,” said Feinberg, who oversaw funds in Aurora, Virginia Tech and now Boston. “No amount of money is adequate to deal with these horrors. The money is a pretty poor substitute, but that’s what we have.”
Nevas and the two other committee members first met privately with some of the 40 families eligible for funds, then held a public hearing attended by 40 to 50 people.
During the public hearing, some people asked about the remainder of the $11.4 million in the fund. Caryn Kaufman said that, as a spokesman for 50 members affected by mass killings, such as those in Littleton and Aurora, Colorado, she believes all the money should go to the families of the Sandy Hook victims.
“The public gave money after seeing the faces of those precious children and brave school staff who were senselessly murdered,” Kaufman said. “The intent was clear; help ease the burden of those families who lost the most that day. Stop re-victimizing the victims.”
Rob Accomando, organizer of the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, which provided more than $1.2 million to the families of the victims, said the foundation should give more information about how it arrived at its decisions.
“There are a whole lot of questions that should have come before this meeting,” Accomando said. “There’s a lot of people here who would love to know how we got to this point, and why the committee has not done things more transparently.”
Nevas, however, responded that the distribution of the funds was the decision of the foundation, not the committee.
The local chapter of the United Way originally handled the fund when donations began coming in. The Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation, Inc. now oversees the fund and made the decision to split the fund and give $7.7 million to the families and reserve the remainder as a community fund.
Some of the victims’ families have been critical of the foundation. They have claimed that the group has not been attentive to the desire of the families to have an independent third party manage the fund, that it has not been transparent regarding the source of donations, that it has not shared donor intent information, and that it has taken too long to make distribution decisions.
The Courant reports that, last week, members of 12 of the families met with the news outlet, under condition of anonymity, to discuss their battle with the foundation for months over how the fund is disbursed.
The foundation maintained that it was never intended to be a victim’s compensation fund and that the $7.7 million, to be distributed to the 40 families, is more than fair, while family members asserted they had no trust in a board “which raised money on the blood of their dead children.”
“It is massively insulting to the families that since day one they have asked for our advice and then completely ignored it every time, making us victims all over again,” one family member said.
The report indicates that the struggle between the families and the foundation came to a head two weeks ago at a meeting that ended with at least two mothers running from the room crying.
The foundation’s plan is to keep the remainder of the fund for the community to be distributed at some later point by a separate committee of town officials. Foundation members say that those funds are for the long-term needs of Newtown, whatever they may be.
"The easy thing to do is just give the money to the victims and close the account. That's the easy thing but not necessarily the right thing," said foundation President Dr. Charles Herrick. "In the short-term, I don't pretend to believe that anyone is happy but in the long-term, I hope the families will see it as the right decision to reserve money for the community's future needs."
Foundation members also indicate that the attorney general’s office reviewed their records and determined that they were honoring not only their by-laws, but also donor intent that money go to the community.
Family members say, however, that the attorney general reviewed a minimal amount of the total donations and that the fund has changed names several times. In addition, they claim that there has already been plenty of money donated to the Newtown community through numerous charities.
Herrick responded, “There were 450 other kids in school that day and we have no idea what long term needs they will require as they go through the school system.”
According to the Courant, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D-WFP) said he had recommended that United Way bring in an independent third party to distribute the fund soon after the shooting. The United Way raised the money, then turned the fund over to the foundation.