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Red Cross: Over $100 million in Sandy aid still unspent

The Red Cross raised about $303 million to help those affected by hurricane Sandy, but only two-thirds of it has been spent, prompting criticism that the Red Cross is losing sight of its role in emergency relief.

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In this March 2, 2013 photo, rubble surrounds the foundation of a home destroyed by Sandy in the Belle Harbor section of the Queens borough of New York. By many measures, the recovery from the superstorm, which struck Oct. 29, has been slow.

Mark Lennihan / AP

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Seven months after Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross still hasn't spent more than a third of the $303 million it raised to assist victims of the storm, a strategy the organization says will help address needs that weren't immediately apparent in the disaster's wake.

Some disaster relief experts say that's smart planning. But others question whether the Red Cross, an organization best known for rushing into disasters to distribute food and get people into shelter, should have acted with more urgency in the weeks after the storm and left long-haul recovery tasks to someone else.

"The Red Cross has never been a recovery operation. Their responsibility has always been mass care," said Ben Smilowitz, executive director of the Disaster Accountability Project, a nonprofit group that monitors aid groups. "Stick with what you're good at."

Storm victims could have used more help this past winter, said Kathleen McCarthy, director of the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Civil Society at the City University of New York.

"People were cold. Homes mildewed. There wasn't enough decent housing," she said. "Given the lingering despair, it's hard to understand the argument that 'We are setting that money aside.'"

As Americans open their wallets to assist tornado victims in Oklahoma, the Red Cross is again emerging as one of the most important relief organizations on the ground and also one of the most prodigious fundraisers for victims. As of Thursday, it had raised approximately $15 million in donations and pledges for the tornado response, including a $1 million gift from NBA star Kevin Durant and numerous $10 donations, pledged via text.

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