Just hours after terrorists hijacked passenger planes and slammed them into the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. and the World Trade Center towers in New York City, Americans opened their arms, their hearts and their pocketbooks.
Celebrities and ordinary citizens took to the streets and the airwaves to plead for blood, supplies and much needed cash. And people responded generously.
Blood banks overflowed and their staffs had to turn some people away. Supplies were collected for rescue workers and for the New Yorkers displaced from their homes near "ground zero." And charities were able to raise more than $2 billion.
Where did all that money go? Months after Sept 11., the Red Cross was criticized for earmarking some money for future attacks/emergencies funds instead of forwarding it to the victims' families. The public condemned other charities for taking too long to get the money to the appropriate people.
Also, with so much money, there was bound to be some greed and poor coordination among charities even may have contributed to a wave of fraudulent claims.
The Red Cross identified 356 suspicious schemes, averaging $7,500 a claimant. The Manhattan DA's office said it arrested 91 people for fleecing Sept. 11 charities of more than $1 million. One Michigan man was arrested after allegedly siphoning $272,800 from two charities. He allegedly invented a brother and forged a death certificate. Some telemarketing companies were also found to be falsely using Sept. 11 as their selling point.
But, according to Attorney General of New York State Eliot Spitzer, the number of these cases is small. "The more important story is that the amount given to those in need is remarkable," said Spitzer on a visit to The Early Show.
Almost a year later, 240 charities had distributed $1.5 billion and more than $1 billion remains to help bereaved families and displaced workers and residents in lower Manhattan for the next several years.
"A grade for charity probably would have started with an F, and by now, it looks more like a B," says Daniel Borochoff, president of the watchdog American Institute of Philanthropy, which rates charities to advise donors on how their money is spent.
Major non-profit groups report direct cash payments have met the immediate living needs of the hardest-hit victims: the 3,396 families of the dead and seriously injured. The Red Cross says it is "on track" to keep a promise to distribute $765 million from its $988 million Liberty Fund for Sept. 11.
More money is still flowing in to help the needy. Every time Yankees slugger Jason Giambi homers, he gives $1,000 to former mayor Rudy Giuliani's Twin Towers Fund for families of city emergency workers lost Sept. 11. Mets pitcher Al Leiter gives $1,000 for every game he wins.
"Every day more money comes in and every day more money goes out and there is no exact unified reporting system," said Spitzer. "They have to report figures to the IRS but not in that level of detail."
Spitzer advises those who still want to give to Sept. 11 charities to check the organization's background with friends, ask for references, look at the organization's Web site, and consult the Better Business Bureau. He also notes that the Web site, www.wtcrelief.info, lists some 190 groups involved in relief efforts. It offers both victims and donors the ability to find groups offering aid, even in such specific categories as aid for college tuition or mortgage assistance.
Spitzer hopes future coordination of charities and streamlining the application process for relief will make fraud harder and access to aid easier.
Unrelated to the charties, the Federal Compensation Fund passed by Congress is also available to victims and victims' families. The fund was established to compensate the families of the more than 3,000 people who were killed and injured in the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks. In turn, the families agree not to sue the airlines that had planes hijacked by the terrorists for the Sept. 11 attack.
"It still looks like the best, quickest way for these families to get compensation," said Spitzer. "It is an individual decision whether to go for the fund."
He is especially concerned about undocumented workers who were victims. He says these workers and their families won't be able to access the federal compensation fund without being turned over to the INS.
Some also say there is a vast discrepancy betweeen the money received by the families of uniformed officers (averaging $1.2 million per family) and the money received by civilian victims' families (approximately $149,000 per family).
"It's true that the uniformed officers were the beneficiaries of some extraordinary charities but they also did some extraordinary things on that day - they were running into those buildings while everyone else was running out," said Spitzer. "Hopefully in the end everyone will receive compensation that is sufficient."