News and analysis
July 23, 2015

Red Cross Response on Haiti Further Inflames Sen. Grassley

Homeowner Reynald Gue (right) talks to American Red Cross staff member Garry Calixte (left) inside Reynald's house in the Carrefour area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
Rodrigo Ordonez, American Red Cross

A house in Port-au-Prince that was damaged in the 2010 Haii earthquake. The Red Cross says it raised $487,640,757 for its Haiti relief effort and had spent $400,503,814 as of June 30.

The American Red Cross defended its relief activities in Haiti in documents released Thursday, saying its management expenses were for functions "indispensable to conduct our activities."

The documents were a response to a request by Sen. Charles Grassley for information about how it spent donation dollars after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, among other questions.

The nonprofit submitted the documents on Wednesday and asked Senator Grassley not to publish them, citing contractual obligations to protect partner organizations’ information.

But on Thursday, the senator released the Red Cross response, excluding information about its partner organizations, and issued a statement critical of the request to keep that information from the public.

"It’s unclear why the Red Cross enters into contracts with other organizations stipulating that details of grants can’t be disclosed to the media or donors," he said. "Who’s driving the lack of disclosure, the Red Cross or the grant recipients? What’s the rationale for it? It’s hard to see how disclosing the dollar amounts given from the Red Cross to the individual organizations and how those organizations spent the money would harm anyone."

Senator Grassley also said he has further questions about the spending numbers, overhead costs, and results achieved by the Red Cross and its partners.

"Transparency and accountability are important for any spending in the public interest," he said. "With that in mind, I’ll continue to ask questions on behalf of the donating, tax-paying public."

Data Disclosed

In the document, the Red Cross said it raised $487,640,757 for its Haiti relief effort and had spent $400,503,814 as of June 30.

It stated that "an average of 91 cents of every dollar the Red Cross spends is invested in humanitarian services and programs including disaster relief and recovery. Items such as food, shelter, financial assistance, purchasing supplies, training volunteers, and staff costs needed for the operation are included in our program costs."

It noted that it manages all of its projects in Haiti, including all projects on which it collaborates with other organizations.

The Red Cross answered questions from the senator about how it calculates the number of people it assisted in Haiti, how many homes it built in the country, and how much of the money it raised for the relief effort was spent on overhead.

It denied that Haitians were not permitted to apply for senior-level management positions, stating that 37 Haitians held management positions in its programs as of February 2015.

In response to the senator’s questions about why the Red Cross continued to solicit donations after meeting its fundraising goal, the nonprofit replied that "the needs were so great that we could not in good conscience halt donations or imagine at the outset what precise amount of donations would be needed. We are confident that those donations were needed, and we spent and committed them well."

The nonprofit also provided information about contacts made to its ombudsman’s office with regard to its work in Haiti. Issues raised included concern that a volunteer’s criticism of the Red Cross could jeopardize his or her ability to continue volunteering with the nonprofit and a complaint that at one chapter, funds intended for Haiti were wrongly placed in a general disaster-relief fund.

Redacted was information about which organizations the Red Cross worked with and provided grants to, including how much money it transferred to each, how much money was budgeted and spent on each project, and the number of people each project assisted.

A Red Cross spokeswoman told The Chronicle in an email: "The American Red Cross carefully stewards our donor dollars and is proud of our work to help the people of Haiti.  We have answered a number of questions from Senator Grassley and will certainly answer any additional questions."

Send an email to Rebecca Koenig.