Private donors raise $15 million after Orlando mass shooting, but Florida's victim fund is first to send money

Orlando police officers are seen outside of Pulse nightclub after the June 12 attack that left 49 dead and 53 wounded. So far $15 million has been raised to benefit the victims and families of those killed or wounded in the mass shooting.  [Gerardo Mora | Getty Images]
Orlando police officers are seen outside of Pulse nightclub after the June 12 attack that left 49 dead and 53 wounded. So far $15 million has been raised to benefit the victims and families of those killed or wounded in the mass shooting. [Gerardo Mora | Getty Images]
Published Jun. 23, 2016

Donors have now given $15 million to benefit survivors and family members of those killed in the Pulse nightclub mass shooting. But the first checks to those recipients are coming from Florida's victim's compensation fund.

The OneOrlando fund has collected $9 million and Equality Florida's Pulse Victims Fund has raised nearly $6 million in private donations as of the close of business Wednesday. Both funds have been paying some bills, but have yet to send checks out to victims or their families.

"We are working to provide the major support for major medical bills with efficiency, transparency and accountability to make sure no scams are involved," said Equality Florida spokeswoman Ida Eskamani.

Previous coverage: Crowdfunding quickly raises money for Orlando shooting victims — at a price

Meanwhile, the Florida Crime Victims Compensation Trust Fund has started sending out payments and reimbursements. The $13.5 million fund is available not just to the victims of the Orlando shooting, but any victim of crime in Florida.

The Attorney General's Office said Thursday that it had processed 220 claims and paid nearly $71,000 to cover medical bills and other expenses. The biggest group of claims filed with the office were to cover the cost of mental health care.

Authorities say 49 people were killed and 53 wounded in the June 12 attack on a gay nightclub. There were reportedly about 300 people in the club at the time of the attack. Officials don't know yet know how many claims will be made, but they're planning to include those who were at the scene of the mass shooting but escaped without physical injury.

Equality Florida said Sunday that victims and their families could start the registration process this week. Payouts could be made in the next eight to nine weeks.

By Thursday, nearly 200 people had contacted with the VictimConnect Resource Center to register. About 60 percent of them were victim's families and survivors, while the others were organizations and community leaders calling on their behalf, said Eskamani.

More than 113,000 donors from around the world have donated to the Equality Florida's Pulse Victims Fund through crowdfunding website The $6 million raised so far includes a handful of larger donations processed through the National Compassion Fund, which is exempt from GoFundMe's 7.9 percent processing fee.

OneOrlando, the fund created by the mayor's office, is still figuring out how it will distribute its funds. Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer announced last week that OneOrlando dollars would go directly to victims rather than be distributed through community nonprofits and other efforts.

That has put it in direct competition with the Equality Florida fund. Representatives for both sides have said that they have considered combining the funds.

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"We're in conversations with them but we don't know where we're going to land," said Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime, which has partnered with Equality Florida to manage the fund. "I think people are hoping it's going to happen but it's not a done deal."

Orlando city spokeswoman Cassandra Lafser said in an email to the Tampa Bay Times that "any future fund merger" is still being considered.

Equality Florida's fund and the City of Orlando's fund have another thing in common: nationally-known victim compensation expert Kenneth Feinberg.

Last week, the city named Feinberg as an advisor to the OneOrlando Fund. He is also on the advisory board for the National Center for Victims of Crime's National Compassion Fund. Fernandez said the center is working with Feinberg to distribute the money as quickly as possible.

Equality Florida has no deadline for victims and their families to register. "But we're urging people to do it as soon as they can," Eskamani said. From there, the center will vet each applicant to ensure that the money goes to the right people.

Eskamani noted that there were three undocumented victims in the nightclub, and assured victims and their families that they are "protected from the threat of deportation" when they register for financial help.

The state's victim compensation fund is already being used to cover the costs of funerals, lost wages and other needs victims and families may incur. It will send out payments of up to $50,000 for a "catastrophic disability," $10,000 for medical or dental treatments, $10,000 for grief counseling and $7,500 for funeral or burial services.

The funds are applied on a case-by-case basis and are typically paid directly to the hospitals and vendors that aided the victims.

The state's payments will have no bearing on the amount of money victims will receive from the Equality Florida fund, Fernandez said.

Florida Crime Victim Compensation dollars come from court-ordered fines, fees and restitution generated from criminal offenders in Florida's courts system.

Contact Alli Knothe at Follow @KnotheA.