United Way defends delays in millions of tornado aid - wave3.com-Louisville News, Weather & Sports

United Way defends delays in millions of tornado aid

Major Stephen Kiger talks with Eric Flack Major Stephen Kiger talks with Eric Flack
Virginia Grider Virginia Grider

HENRYVILLE, IN (WAVE) - The tornadoes that ripped through southern Indiana back in March left behind death and destruction.

Four months later, a WAVE 3 Troubleshooter Investigation uncovered millions of dollars in aid meant to help survivors sits unused. Troubleshooter Eric Flack has been working this story for weeks and found confusion and contradictions from United Way officials defending delays in distributing all that money.

Virginia Grider, 71, returned to her home nearly four months after an EF 4 tornado tore it apart.

"It's hard," Virginia said. "Because I lost so much stuff."

A lifetimes worth of possessions destroyed along with her roof, floors and almost everything else. She's one of thousands in tornado zones like Henryville, Indiana whose insurance didn't cover the loss.

"You just do one day at a time," Virginia said choking back tears.

It's been more than a hundred days since the Lilly Endowment of Indianapolis announced a $3,150,000 charitable grant for Indiana storm relief and recovery efforts. More than $2 million to pay for the unmet needs of storm victims in Clark, Jefferson and Washington counties, which are classified as things insurance and FEMA won't cover.

So how much money has made it into the hands of local disaster victims as of mid-July?

"That's a challenging question," said Mary Sullivan, area disaster manager for the Indiana United Way.

Challenging because the answer isn't a lot. It's the Indiana Association of United Ways that's responsible for distributing that $3.1 million Lilly grant. Sullivan said as of mid-July $126,000 has been doled out and $50,000 of that has gone to pay the salaries of case managers, and set up costs.

Carolyn King is the Executive Director of March2Recovery, the local agency coordinating the rebuilding in the Henryville area. King said March2Recovery had to go door to door assessing and documenting the unmet needs of tornado victims before they could start passing on the Lilly money.

When pressed on the perception all that paperwork is just unnecessary bureaucratic red tape, King responded, "I know it seems like it."

It did to the Salvation Army of Southern Indiana. Was all that "red tape" unnecessary?

"A lot of it was yes," said Major Stephen Kiger of the Salvation Army located in New Albany.

Kiger's organization was the one originally in charge of distributing the recovery donations. But Kiger said the group stepped aside as fiscal agent for the March2Recovery ten days after Lilly announced it's multi million dollar grant. The reason? All the hoops storm victims had to jump through to get the money.

Rules Major Kiger told the Troubleshooter were written into the grant request by the Indiana Association of United Ways.

"They overworked it," Kiger told Troubleshooter Eric Flack. "And it could have been done more simply and more quickly."

In turn, Kiger said, it could have gotten tornado victims money faster.

Since then Kiger said The Salvation Army put $532,615 into the hands of storm victims while the United Way and March2Recovery plod toward distributing the Lilly millions.

Sullivan and King told Troubleshooter Eric Flack the Lilly Endowment didn't even write the actual check for the grant until July. But our investigation uncovered that's not correct.

Lilly Endowment spokesperson Gretchen Wolfram told us the money was paid to the Indiana Association of United Ways months ago.

"The grant was paid to IAUW in April," wrote in an email.

So we pressed the Indiana Association of United Ways for the truth.

In an email President Roger Frick confirmed his group had Lilly's money in April, but are just now ready to hand the bulk of it out. Noting the money has already paid for those start up costs and salaries.

"That is how we were able to make early grants to help get long term recovery started," Frick wrote.

It's a picture of confusion that does nothing to help the picture of Virginia Grider's broken life.

"I cannot stand it," Virginia said. "The pain."

In an email sent the day before we published this investigation, King called the rules United Way put in place "cumbersome" but necessary, claiming they were required by The Lilly Endowment.

King admitted things could have moved more quickly, days after the March2Recovery announced it was finally ready to start distributing the bulk of the money.

To apply for aid in Clark, Jefferson or Washington County call (812) 294-1677 or (502) 599-8557. Holton, Ripley and Scott County also got that some of that $3.1 million. Contact recovery agencies in those areas to find out more.

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