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Red Cross unveils plan for September 11 funds

NEW YORK (CNN) -- Ninety percent of the millions collected by the American Red Cross to assist people affected by the events of September 11 will be in their hands by the first anniversary of the horrific terrorist attacks, the agency said Thursday.

Former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, appointed to oversee distribution of the funds after harsh criticisms of the Red Cross late last year, said at a news conference that the plan meets the Red Cross objective to distribute the funds in a way that is "most fair and best meets the needs of those who suffered most."

The plan earmarks $240 million of the fund's remaining $360 million for financial assistance, $80 million for long-term services and $25 million for immediate disaster relief, Mitchell said.

The Red Cross came under fire from donors and lawmakers late last year for its plan to distribute some of the money the fund collected for purposes not directly related to the attacks. Burned by the criticism, the agency regrouped and asked Mitchell, who led peace negotiations in Northern Ireland and a committee examining the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, to oversee fund distribution.

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The former senator held meetings with family members, asking for their advice on formulating the plan. Noting the "sheer magnitude" of the disaster, Mitchell said he hoped the agency's successes would not be overshadowed by the earlier problems.

"The Red Cross deserves credit both for acknowledging its mistakes and changing its policies as necessary, but most importantly for meeting its historic and traditional role to provide emergency disaster relief to thousands of people at a time of real pain, grief and need," he said.

Previously, the Red Cross had distributed $317 million, but the venerable agency was rocked when it said it planned to use some of the remaining money for future needs, including preparing for possible terrorist attacks.

Then-Red Cross president Dr. Bernadine Healy established the fund shortly after September 11, but resigned in October after heavy criticism for her aggressive fund raising and the relatively small portion of the Liberty Fund that was making its way to victims' families.

The three-part plan announced Thursday makes available $40 million to extend the Family Gift Program, which provides a full year of living expenses to the families of those killed or missing, and to those seriously injured in the attacks. Another $125 million will fund one-time, supplemental gifts of $45,000 to the estates of those killed or seriously injured and an additional $15 million to assist beneficiaries of the Family Gift Program who are not eligible for the supplemental gift.

The remaining $60 million earmarked for family assistance will be used to assist displaced residents, those affected economically by the attacks and disaster workers.

The $80 million set aside for long-term relief will help fund services such as mental health care for a three- to five-year period. The final $25 million will maintain support services set up in the communities affected by the attacks.

The money not directly sent to these efforts will pay for direct support costs for the fund and much of that will come from interest on the money collect rather than the donations themselves, Red Cross Board of Governors Chairman David McLaughlin said.

"We made a commitment to listen more closely to the families affected and to our own donors," McLaughlin said. "With this plan, we are keeping our promise and responding directly to the needs and desires of both."

"The tragedy that thousands of families have faced is unprecedented, but so is the response of the Red Cross, its volunteers and its donors," said Harold Decker, the agency's CEO. "I think we can be very proud that within one year of theses tragic attacks we will have raised and disbursed more than $750 million in financial aid and services to help almost 58,000 families affected by them."


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