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NYC pols call on Red Cross to speed Sandy aid

David b. Caruso, Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Members of the New York City Council sent a letter to the American Red Cross on Wednesday, calling on the organization to immediately allocate millions of dollars in Superstorm Sandy disaster relief donations that remain unspent seven months after the storm.

As of mid-April, the Red Cross still had $110 million remaining out of the $303 million it took in from donors hoping to help the hurricane's victims. Red Cross officials said in an Associated Press report on Tuesday that they had resisted burning through all aid resources in the initial months after the storm because it wasn't yet clear where the greatest long-term need would be or what sort of gaps in government funding might emerge.

But in their letter on Wednesday, 11 council members, including the council Speaker and mayoral candidate Christine Quinn, said they were "deeply disturbed" that so much money remained unspent.

"New Yorkers expect The Red Cross to deliver emergency aid, and we cannot accept that these funds should be allocated at a later date to address long-term needs," the letter said. "Sitting on this unspent money is an insult to both the victims of Hurricane Sandy and the generous donors to the American Red Cross."

The letter was addressed to Josh Lockwood, CEO of the American Red Cross Greater New York.

The Red Cross issued a statement defending its handling of donations.

"We completely understand the sense of urgency that the council members have; we have that too, but we also need to spend donor dollars as wisely and carefully as we can," it said.

The council members sent the letter the same day that the Red Cross announced a $1.25 million grant to the Brooklyn Community Foundation, which has been giving financial support to community groups working on storm recovery projects.

The Red Cross said it expects to make similar grants soon, but added that the process takes time because each aid request is vetted carefully to make sure money won't be squandered.

The relief organization also plans to spend tens of millions of dollars on individual assistance to victims, including a program providing grants of up to $10,000 to families that need assistance moving in to long-term housing.

"Individual assistance involves going family to family assessing needs — and this takes time," the statement said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg declined to criticize the Red Cross' handling of donations.

"They have a history of being there when this country needs them, and they certainly were there on the ground right after Sandy," the mayor said. "Some things take a long time to implement. And to criticize and say, 'Oh, you should spend every dollar the first day,' is just not a common sense way to run something like that."