Red Cross gives cash transfers worth $50M to Fort Mac evacuees in 'unprecedented' move
Canadians have so far donated more than $79 million to the Red Cross in support of Fort McMurray fire evacuees. That number is expected to rise even further in the coming days and weeks — and that's before the federal government matches the amount with its own funds.
On Thursday, the Red Cross announced an unprecedented plan: to distribute 50 million of those dollars in cash transfers to fire evacuees, immediately.
"This is the most important cash transfer we have done in our history and the fastest one," says Canadian Red Cross President and CEO, Conrad Sauvé.
Adults who escaped the Fort McMurray fire will be eligible to receive $600 each, while children will receive $300 each.
"The [cash transfers] will allow those evacuees to be empowered, to have their own assistance in their hands, and to be able to make decisions for their own emerging needs," Jenn McManus, vice-president of the Canadian Red Cross for Alberta, tells As It Happens host Carol Off.
But the decision marks a huge shift in the way the Canadian Red Cross has allocated money in other domestic disasters. Last week, As It Happens spoke to Kate Bahen, Charity Intelligence Canada, who said that historically, the Red Cross spend the majority of its donor funds on long-term relief — money the watchdog group believes would be better spent on immediate assistance, through local charities.
"In the 2013 disaster, with the floods in Alberta, the Red Cross received $43 million. Local charities received less than two per cent of that [in 2013] and yet they had to do the bulk of the work. They are the first responders," Bahen said.
But McManus disputes this. She says during the Alberta floods, the Red Cross actually gave $12 million to local charities — which works out to be about 26 per cent of the money raised.
"I was in our emergency operations centre in 2013 when the Southern Alberta floods unfolded. I have been alongside every stage of our recovery program. The two per cent figure is inaccurate," McManus says.
The $12 million McManus refers to was spent over the course of three years. McManus says there's good reason for that.
"I met face to face with smaller agencies [during the floods], and they were overwhelmed. They did not have the capacity to respond. [The Red Cross] could bridge the immediate needs, and then later, that gave community groups the chance to get their sea legs and their footing."
To hear more, take a listen to our full interview with Jenn McManus.