Catholic Charity Denies Claims of 'Holding Back' Haiti Aid Money

CRS staff load a truck with meals-ready-to eat for medical staff at St. Francois de Sales hospital.(Photo: Lane Hartill/CRS)

A Catholic humanitarian agency is refuting a recent report from CBS Evening News that implied the charity is ignoring emergency needs in Haiti by not spending its aid money fast enough.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS) denied the implications from a CBS report last week titled "Following the Aid Money to Haiti," which revealed that CRS and other prominent aid agencies have spent less than 30 percent of the donations they have received for reconstructing the quake-stricken Caribbean nation.

CRS, which was reported as having spent eight percent of the $165 million it has collected so far for Haiti relief, denied that the group is "holding back" any funds, but rather is "doing everything we can to save lives and help people regain a sense of stability and human dignity."

Acknowledging that emergency operations are still ongoing in Haiti, the group said that they "do everything we can in the emergency phase to save lives" and spend as much money as they "responsibly can under the difficult conditions in which we work, taking into account factors such as fiscal responsibility and accountability, organizational capacity, programming quality, and security."

CRS also noted that portions of their funds are earmarked for longer term projects, including the rebuilding of St. Francois de Sales hospital, which the group estimates will cost $40 million.

The charity further explained that there is a difference between funds being spent and the value of the relief efforts being delivered.

"As a highly respected aid agency with a long record of efficiency and excellence, CRS has the ability to not only raise funds for emergency responses but to also raise donations in the form of food commodities, supplies, services and other material resources," the group said. "This in-kind support is not completely captured in the budget information reported in the CBS segment. Thus the value of the assistance CRS has provided to date far exceeds the amount of funds that have been spent."

The group gave examples of such support as including most of the 10.6 million rations of food CRS has distributed to Haitians, which came directly from donors including the U.S. government.

"These donations enabled us to mount a very quick and robust response to the earthquake. We had food from the U.S. government's Food For Peace program in our warehouses in Haiti and we were able to immediately begin distributing that in the days after the earthquake," CRS said. "Because the rations were provided as food, CRS did not need to spend additional funds for them."

The group also noted its medical response in Haiti as an example, explaining that the services were partially funded through private money from the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Lastly, CRS denied several claims from CBS online commentators who suggested the group is holding back Haiti money to collect interest and increase their revenues, saying that such remarks "could not be further from the truth."

"It is a longstanding CRS policy that , aside from a small percentage to cover administrative costs – five percent this year – all money collected for a specific emergency, such as the Haiti earthquake, must be used for that purpose," the group writes. "Similarly, 95 percent of the interest collected on the donations received for Haiti will be spent on our disaster response in Haiti."

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