NYAC Response to Recent News on Sandy Recovery Work

NYAC Response to Recent News on Sandy Recovery Work

11/9/2013

Rev. Tom Vencuss, left, and Peggy Racine look over a Seaford, N.Y., home that has been marked unsafe to enter after it was damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Vencuss is Sandy recovery manager for the NYAC and Racine is the Long Island Sandy site coordinator. A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose.

 

BY TOM VENCUSS

Coordinator of Disaster Recovery Ministries

A recent Superstorm Sandy anniversary press conference by the New York State Attorney General, Eric Schneiderman, and an October 29 article in the Wall Street Journal’s opinion pages, have raised questions about the use of funds that were donated to a number of charities and non-profit organizations, including the United Methodist Church. The WSJ article accused the Attorney General’s Office of a “shakedown” by putting pressure on charities to stop holding back funds and thus delaying the recovery efforts of Sandy survivors.

As the person overseeing the Sandy Recovery Ministries for the New York Annual Conference, I was contacted by the Charities Bureau of the attorney general’s office regarding the use of donated funds – including an UMCOR grant to the annual conference.

Here was my response:

“From the very outset, United Methodist churches, pastors, and volunteers from the New York Annual Conference and beyond, have been on the front lines of Sandy relief and recovery efforts. We work with, and through, local Long Term Recovery Organizations and Unmet Needs Tables to identify and vet clients who need assistance. We then, along with other groups, attempt to address these needs through a combination of volunteer work teams, direct assistance, or other support.  Priority is given to persons or families of lower income, elderly, single parent families, and persons with disabilities. This is in compliance with the guidelines of the UMCOR grant and our understanding of our overall mission. However, we do respond to each inquiry we receive and assist persons within our guidelines as best we can.”

This past spring we moved from the “relief” phase to the “recovery” phase in our Sandy ministry. Since my arrival in August, we have been working to establish a structure within each of the affected areas to best meet the needs of those communities. This is now complete. While the stream of volunteers has dropped off somewhat, as is often the case at this time of the season, we are developing a full schedule of teams for the new year and spring.  In the meantime, we continue to work with clients through our case manager, spiritual care coordinator, volunteers, and direct assistance.

It is unfortunate that our long-term recovery plan efforts have been interpreted as “holding back” funds. Once the Attorney General’s Charity Bureau understood our plan, it met their approval. Unfortunately, our name was linked with other charities that had no organized plan or procedure in place for the use of the funds for long-term recovery.

Some have misinterpreted the Attorney General’s efforts as being politically motivated, that somehow we were being pressured into using our funds for particular projects, or to advance a political agenda. My conversation, and agreement, with the New York Attorney General’s Office, was simply a restating of, and in complete compliance with, the UMCOR grant proposal, and the Sandy recovery mission of the New York Annual Conference. There was no conversation directing the funds to particular areas or projects.

I can assure everyone that we, the NYAC Sandy Recovery Ministries, are working to assist Sandy survivors with their long-term recovery, that all donated funds are used for recovery efforts, and that we practice good stewardship in their use.

Note: The press release from Schneiderman’s office can be found at: http://www.ag.ny.gov/press-release/ag-schneiderman-reaches-agreement-four-charities-provide-nearly-10-million-sandy

 

The WSJ opinion piece entitled, “Redistributing Charity: The latest trend in law enforcement: Attorney General Eric Schneiderman shakedown after Hurricane Sandy,” can be found at:http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052702304655104579165960016857316