AUSTIN, Texas.- Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said Wednesday he raised concerns with the American Red Cross following Hurricane Harvey that hundreds of millions of dollars in donations wasn’t getting to people who need it.
His comments heaped another powerful voice onto questions surrounding the organization’s response to the Category 4 storm that struck Texas in August and left behind what may become the costliest natural disaster cleanup in U.S. history.
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and Harris County Judge Ed Emmett have previously discouraged donors from giving to the Red Cross after blaming the organization for problems at emergency shelters. Speaking to reporters from Washington, Abbott said he heard “multiple concerns” at the local level that people weren’t seeing aid from the Red Cross as expected.
Abbott said he had multiple conversations with Red Cross President Gail McGovern, most recently about a month ago.
“I did express concern that the money that was allocated, or let’s say donated, to go to Harvey relief was not getting into the hands of the people who need it and about some of the slowness with regard to the funds,” said Abbott, who was in Washington to press the White House and Congress for more federal recovery dollars.
“I know there was a lot of money — as in hundreds of millions of dollars in money — that was available for Texas that seemed not to be getting to Texas in either a timely fashion or in a well-organized, well-directed fashion.”
The Red Cross has raised $429 million in donations and pledges for Harvey, with more than half the total amount raised for storm relief in Texas, according to a tally of major groups by The Associated Press.
“We believe we have been transparent in our response to Hurricane Harvey, and Ms. McGovern will be reaching out to the Governor’s office to ensure that he has all the information he needs,” Red Cross spokeswoman Elizabeth Penniman said. “The Red Cross also believes the Governor has shown tremendous leadership during this response, and we look forward to continuing our work with him in the months ahead.”
She said 91 cents of every dollar donated for Harvey will go to people affected by the storm and that the Red Cross has authorized payments of at least $400 to more than 573,000 households affected. Abbott said he saw the Red Cross do a good job at shelters after Harvey but his concerns surrounded where the money went.
The day after the storm began in Houston, the Red Cross quickly opened a “megashelter” at a downtown Houston convention center. Originally setting a capacity of 5,000 people, the Red Cross ended up with double that number in three days. It temporarily ran out of cots, forcing some people to sleep on blankets or strips of cardboard.
Emmett, the county’s top elected administrative official, said the county had to divert vehicles at the height of the storm to move people from neighborhoods to the convention center and other shelters — something he thinks the Red Cross should have done.
“When you see them raising money, you go, ‘Wait a minute, what’s fair about this?'” he said in an interview in September.
Still, the Red Cross has far outraised other groups working on the Texas Gulf Coast, off the strength of its reputation and with the help of commercials on national television and online.
David Brady, who was CEO of the Red Cross’ Texas Gulf Coast chapter during Harvey, defended the group’s response at shelters and said the storm presented unprecedented challenges.
But Brady and two other top officials at the local Red Cross recently resigned. Brady said in a Facebook post that he disagreed “too often” with the national Red Cross over how to respond to Harvey.
“It is not fair to the organization to have a leader in this role that is filled with that much doubt,” Brady said. “And it was not fair to me or my family to work where I am not happy and do not feel valued.”