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Does the Red Cross have a history of mucking up relief efforts?

During disasters like Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Haiti and Indonesia and the California wildfires, the American Red Cross has come under fire for it's handling of money and resources.
Red Cross
Photo: Reuters

Should you donate to the American Red Cross? There are some who shun the Red Cross as a valuable relief agency.

In a 2015 report, the federal Government Accountability Office wrote that “no regular, independent evaluations are conducted of the impact or effectiveness of the Red Cross’s disaster services” and noted Congress is open to additional evaluations by FEMA or other federal agencies.

Jonathan M. Katz wrote for Slate:

“When the earthquake [in Haiti 2010] struck, killing an estimated 100,000 to 316,000 people, American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern’s staff swung into action doing what it does best: raising money. Their appeal to ‘save lives,’ aided by endorsements from President Obama and celebrities, and fueled by a pioneering text message campaign, raised a staggering $488 million.

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“It quickly became clear that the organization’s biggest problem would be figuring out what to do with all that cash. … ARC isn’t a medical aid group à la Doctors Without Borders. It doesn’t do development work or specialize in rebuilding destroyed neighborhoods. What it does best is provide immediate assistance — often in the form of blankets, hygiene kits, or temporary shelter — and as incredibly destructive as the earthquake was, there wasn’t half a billion dollars of tarps and hygiene kits to hand out.

“Staffers came up with all kinds of creative ways to unload the money, including handing it off to other aid groups that could use it better (after ARC had taken its customary 9 percent administrative cut). … ‘There’s only so much money that can be forced through the emergency phase,’ an ARC spokeswoman told me when I asked how it was possible that just a third of the money it had raised had even been committed, much less spent, two years later.”

During major disasters, the Red Cross has come under fire. While small-scale disasters are handled with volunteers handing out blankets and compassion, some believe the Red Cross bungles larger disaster relief efforts.

“ARC’s 2015 response to a string of northern California wildfires was so bad—showing up unequipped and unprepared, shutting down other volunteer operations, and then failing to provide promised food or shelter on its own—that locals shunned the organization to focus on their own relief efforts,” Katz wrote.

There are other organizations that are accepting donations, but be wary of scams.