Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) — The U.S. government released a list of charitable groups collecting contributions to help Hurricane Katrina victims that is dominated by religious organizations and excludes many secular and international relief groups.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency list was posted on the agency’s Web site and published in major newspapers yesterday. After the American Red Cross, which was named first, the next organization was Operation Blessing, a group based in Virginia Beach, Virginia and founded by televangelist and Christian Coalition founder Pat Robertson.
“How in the heck did that happen?” said Richard Walden, president of Operation USA, a Los Angeles-based secular group that has been conducting disaster relief work since 1979 and was not on FEMA’s list. “That gives Pat Robertson millions of extra dollars.”
FEMA spokeswoman Barbara Ellis didn’t return three phone calls seeking comment. Alyssa McClenning, a White House spokeswoman who handles inquiries for its office of faith-based programs, said any questions “should be directed at FEMA.”
Donations for hurricane relief efforts have topped $93 million so far, according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. President George W. Bush, in remarks on the hurricane over the past two days, has encouraged contributions to the Red Cross, the nation’s oldest relief agency. He also has promoted organizations affiliated with churches and religious groups.
“Government agencies are working with faith-based and community groups to find shelters for thousands of displaced persons,” Bush, who supports giving government grants to religious organizations for social programs, said yesterday.
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Taking a break?
Besides the American Red Cross, the only other secular group listed on FEMA’s Web site is Chicago-based America’s Second Harvest, which is one of the nation’s biggest hunger-relief organizations. The list includes relief groups representing most major denominations and religions, including Lutherans, Presbyterians, Jews, Baptists and Catholics, as well as the Salvation Army.
At the bottom of the FEMA Web site list is a statement saying that “this list of organizations is provided by the National Organization of Voluntary Agencies Active in Disaster” and that “listing of or omission of an institution or organization on this Web site does not refer to programmatic capability nor does it confer any official status, approval, or endorsement of the institution or organization.”
The American Council for Voluntary International Action, a Washington-based umbrella group for international relief agencies, says 29 of the 160 organizations in its network are responding to the disaster. “Most of them are not on this list,” said Jim Bishop, director of humanitarian policy and practice. “Some of them are upset.”
Registered With FEMA
Kristin Vischer, a spokeswoman for Robertson’s group, said Operation Blessing is registered with FEMA. “That’s probably one of the reasons we’re there,” she said. “We’ve been working with FEMA since at least Sept. 11 on disaster relief,” she said, referring to the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Robertson, 75, who sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, recently sparked controversy by suggesting that the U.S. assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. He issued an apology for his remarks Aug. 24.
Walden said the FEMA list will be a major influence on where charitable donations are directed.
Impact on Donations
“If you’re on the list from day one or two it means the difference between having a significant amount of financial resources to do your work or not having it and having only to go to your traditional donors,” he said.
Matthew De Galan, chief development officer at MercyCorps, a secular relief and development organization in Portland, Oregon, agreed that the omission could hurt efforts to raise money.
“If you’re left off the FEMA list and you don’t get in the newspaper, there is the potential to lose some critical resources,” De Galan said. He said his group is raising a record amount of money despite the omission and said he doesn’t ascribe any motives to the content of the list.
“Disasters are chaotic things. People have lots of decisions to make quickly,” he said. “It doesn’t seem to us not being on the list has hurt us significantly.” The group raised at least $500,000 yesterday, he said.
Walden said the list is a departure from how the administration has handled previous disasters.
“To my knowledge they have never done it before with such a narrowly focused list of religious groups, some of whom are not known for being relief groups,” Walden said. “It looks like they were chosen for one of each religion.”
Beth Walsh, communications director for AmeriCares, an international relief group based in Stamford, Connecticut, called the published list “odd.”
She said AmeriCares has asked FEMA to be included.
“We haven’t gotten a response yet,” she said.
De Galan said his organization has made a similar request.