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Liberty Fund Closes Up Shop

Saying it had received more money than it knew what to do with for now, the American Red Cross announced Tuesday it would stop seeking donations for its Sept. 11 relief fund as of Wednesday.

The Liberty Fund held $547 million in pledges as of Monday -- enough to meet attack victims' needs for at least a year. About $300 million has been spent or earmarked already for people directly affected by the hijack attacks that killed an estimated 4,800 people.

The rest will be kept on hand to further help Sept. 11 victims or to provide relief after any future terrorist incidents, officials said.

Contributions received after Wednesday will be deposited in the charity's Disaster Relief Fund, a general account servicing all kinds of emergencies, unless donors specify the money is for the Liberty Fund, said Harold Decker, the organization's interim leader.

Liberty Fund money also will continue to be held separately from other funds, Decker said, and will be spent on aid to victims' families and other relief efforts arising from the attacks.

"That is the way the fund was set up. That is what donors expect," he told reporters.

During a weekend meeting of the Red Cross' governing board, Decker was chosen to succeed Bernadine Healy, who resigned Friday, until a committee finds a permanent replacement.

"We believe at this time there are sufficient monies in that fund," Decker told reporters.

Decker said the Red Cross had made significant progress in distributing funds and was working to get aid checks to people within 48 hours of receiving their requests.

The organization has helped more than 20,000 families affected by the attacks and also has assisted the families of three people who died from anthrax.

Decker took over as chief executive for Bernadine Healy, who said Friday she was forced out of the organization after clashing with the board over the Liberty Fund, and other matters. She will stay on as president through the end of the year.

The American Red Cross, one of the world's largest charities, and Healy drew criticism for the handling of the fund, with some questioning how the money would be spent and whether too much had been raised.

Given U.S. officials' warnings about possible future attacks on Americans, the Red Cross felt it was wise and appropriate to keep some money available to respond to any other attacks, Decker said.

"We are going to try and be good stewards of the money ... distributing it appropriately and making sure it goes to the right place," he said.

Chief Financial Officer Jack Campbell said he thought the $300 million was sufficient to cover victims' needs for at least a year.

The Red Cross has budgeted $100 million for immediate disaster relief, such as providing food and emotional support to survivors, families and rescue workers. An additional $100 million is to provide cash to families of people killed Sept. 11. Ensuring adequate blood reserves is due to cost $50 million.

fter Wednesday, people can still donate to the Liberty Fund, but the Red Cross will stop airing television advertisements or otherwise soliciting donations for it.

The organization plans new public service announcements featuring people helped by the Liberty Fund donations.

Asked whether the Red Cross' reputation had been hurt by controversy surrounding the fund and Healy's departure, Decker said he thought the public understood that the organization was doing its best to deal with an unprecedented disaster.

"We're struggling to find the right way to provide assistance to the American people. It can't be perfect. It's fair to say we are learning," he said.

Decker, an attorney, joined the American Red Cross in May as corporate secretary and was named general counsel last month. Before that, he worked for 21 years at drug maker Pharmacia Corp.

He said the Red Cross board was searching for a permanent chief executive and president.

Healy will continue to serve as CBS News' medical consultant.

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