Is Haiti Aid Money Being Spent Quickly Enough?

You may have seen or heard about a report on the Wednesday, May 12 edition of the CBS Evening News titled “Following the Aid Money to Haiti.” The piece looked at the top five U.S. aid agencies that have raised the most money for Haiti and how much they’ve spent so far. The implication is that these aid agencies, including Catholic Relief Services, are not spending the money given by U.S. donors fast enough, and as a result, people in Haiti are being neglected. That’s not true.

This is far from telling the whole story.

–       All CRS Haiti donations will be spent on Haiti relief, recovery and rebuilding per CRS donor expectations.

–       CRS does not “hold back” money or neglect those in immediate need.

–       CRS provides donors with a thorough accounting of donations and expenses

–       Because CRS also provides beneficiaries with non-monetary donations, such as large amounts of food, we’re actually providing more aid than is reflected in early financial reports

–       CRS has been in Haiti for 55 years. Most of our employees there are Haitians. They and CRS will continue relief and recovery work long after the media spotlight fades.

The contention by the reporter is that these aid agencies are “holding back” money to use for long-term reconstruction programs. In fact, CRS is not “holding back” anything. We are doing everything we can to save lives and help people regain a sense of stability and human dignity. The emergency phase is still ongoing and we’re still helping people to meet their basic needs for food, clean water, shelter, basic health and other needs. We do everything we can in the emergency phase to save lives. We spend as much as we 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.

In addition, the money that will be spent over the next several years will go toward projects that will enhance the lives of people living in Port-au-Prince over the long term. For example, St. Francois de Sales hospital, located downtown, was a major provider of health services before it was nearly destroyed in the earthquake. It will cost about $40 million to rebuild, and CRS has committed to paying for nearly half of the cost. This is a project that will benefit countess Haitians with vitally needed health care for decades after its completion.

The CBS piece also says nothing about what we’ve accomplished so far in Haiti. In the months since the earthquake, CRS has accomplished a great deal:

Another misleading aspect of the CBS News report is that it equates “spending” with the value of services actually received by those most in need. While some agencies “spend” money by sending it to other agencies who have a physical presence in Haiti, this does not translate into less hunger or better shelter for those affected by the earthquake. CRS and its partners have the staff, experience and infrastructure to do the actual distribution of food and supplies, build temporary shelter, deliver health care and other badly needed services.  We don’t consider funds to be “spent” until the assistance has been delivered.     

The type of work we do is exemplified in CRS’ response to the 2004 tsunami, similar in scope to the Haiti quake. We spent five years working in Indonesia and did not end our project there until we were satisfied tsunami survivors could stand on their own.  The amount of money we’ve spent in Haiti to date is comparable to the amount we spent for the tsunami relief effort at the same point in that response.

A further point to understand is the difference between funds “spent” and the value of the relief efforts that have been 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. 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. Relief efforts require both material and financial support. An accurate portrayal of levels of assistance includes both. Let me give you a couple of examples:

Most of the 10.6 million rations of food distributed by CRS came from other 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. Because the rations were provided as food, CRS did not need to spend additional funds for them.

Another example is CRS’ medical response in Haiti. Because of CRS’ prior relationship with the University of Maryland Medical Center through HIV and AIDS programs around the world, we were able to use our private funds to help send surgical teams from the world-renowned Maryland Shock Trauma Center to St. Francois de Sales Hospital in Port-au-Prince, where they have led a medical effort that is still continuing. While the cost of getting those medical teams to Haiti is included in CRS expenses, the ongoing costs of the medical teams’ work is not. And yet, none of the lifesaving work of those medical teams would have happened if CRS had not helped them get set up in Haiti. Again, the value of the urgent healthcare provided far exceeds the amount of money spent by CRS alone.

Finally, there have been suggestions from some commenters on the CBS News website that aid organizations are holding back money donated for Haiti to collect interest and increase their revenues. This could not be further from the truth in the case of CRS. 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. Similarly,  95 percent of the interest collected on the donations received for Haiti will be spent on our disaster response in Haiti.

We are glad we have this opportunity to talk about our response to the disaster in Haiti. We are proud of our emergency efforts in Haiti and our long-standing record of efficient and effective emergency relief.  At the same time, we are committed to responsible stewardship and complete transparency about how we use the precious resources we receive from our faithful donors. We welcome your comments and questions as we continue this dialogue.

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4 Responses to “Is Haiti Aid Money Being Spent Quickly Enough?”

  1. Diane Laspisa Says:

    Thank you for the excellent and prompt explanation, fully disclosing CRS past, current and future commitment to the people of Haiti. Your abundant, well- coordinated, timely disbursement of aid, enhanced by your prior and ongoing involvement in the region, clearly surpasses reported claims. May God bless you in your efforts to offer needed shelter, food, water and medical care as well as rebuild. I am certain it is a daunting task. We are grateful for you. Let the $ flow!

  2. Linda Heys Says:

    Is it just the 8% of what you have received towards Haiti thats been spent? I have been VERY concerned with that percentage. Thank you, look forward to your reply.
    [Editor’s note: Thanks for your comment. Please see our response here.

  3. Fr. Duane Pribula Says:

    Who wrote the wonderful article responding to the CBS story? Thank you

  4. Patrick Carney Says:

    Please see this story about the progress in Haiti.


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