Thursday, May 24, 2018
Business

How will Rick Scott's $90,000 Florida Disaster Fund help Pulse nightclub survivors, families?

Within the next few weeks, the $23 million OneOrlando Fund will start sending money directly to more than 50 survivors and families of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. The fund's board has held public hearings and released a protocol detailing how the money will be distributed.

By contrast, Gov. Rick Scott's nearly $90,000 Florida Disaster Fund for Pulse victims has yet to make any announcement about how, when and to whom it will cut checks.

"Activating the Florida Disaster Fund will give individuals across the country the opportunity to assist survivors and the loved ones of the victims," Scott said on June 13.

Erin VanSickle, spokeswoman for the Volunteer Florida Foundation, the nonprofit group managing the fund, said an 11-member board will make a decision on where the money will go at its next meeting on Oct. 11. The meeting will be open to the public.

Deborah Hoover, president of the Ohio-based Burton D. Morgan Foundation, which gave $10,000 to the fund, said she was surprised by the inaction.

"We received a letter of appreciation," she said, but she has not heard anything since and plans to ask for a report on how the dollars are used. "I am hopeful it makes its way to help victims."

The Volunteer Florida Foundation board of directors is led by Tallahassee television and video producer Chucha Barber. Like Volunteer Florida's other board members, she was appointed by Scott and approved by the state Senate.

The Volunteer Florida web page with information on the fund does not provide information about the distribution process, other than to say: "There is no overhead funding; 100% of funds raised will go toward those in need."

VanSickle said funding is available only to organizations "with whom Volunteer Florida has an Memorandum of Understanding." So far, two have submitted applications.

"When the Florida Disaster Fund is activated, this signals … that organizations seeking funding should check for availability," VanSickle wrote in an email. That involves a written request for funding. "Volunteer Florida has notified the emergency management community in Florida via email, social media, and in-person at events since many of these partners are engaged in emergency activation events."

Those partners include Catholic Charities of Florida, the Florida Association of Food Banks and the United Way of Florida.

Under the fund's policies and procedures, partners must be members of the Florida Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster and the Florida emergency management community. Pulse-specific organizations created after the attack would therefore be eligible for those funds only if they, among other things, are "equipped to provide emergency-related services," VanSickle said.

"All kinds of agencies and organizations can be emergency management partners if they have the interest and gain the appropriate knowledge to provide critical unmet need services," she wrote. "Volunteer Florida is happy to expand its network of emergency management partners."

It's unclear how the donations will be used to benefit "survivors and the loved ones of the victims," as Scott said they would when he first reached out to donors. VanSickle noted that the Florida Disaster Fund has previously been activated following tornados or tropical storms. The Pulse fund is a unique case.

"It's important that our board has the opportunity to thoroughly review requests for funding and ensure that every dollar is spent transparently and responsibly and will have the greatest impact on those in need," she wrote.

Times senior news researcher John Martin contributed to this report. Contact Alli Knothe at [email protected] Follow @KnotheA.

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