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hurricane harvey

Red Cross disaster chief doesn't know what share of donations go to Harvey victims

The American Red Cross has already spent $50 million on Tropical Storm Harvey relief efforts, mostly for 232 shelters, Red Cross official Brad Kieserman told NPR's Morning Edition on Wednesday. But he couldn't say what percentage of donations are being spent directly on helping Harvey's victims. "We are committed, I am committed, my team is committed to using our resources and donor dollars in a way that best helps the people of Texas," said Kieserman, the Red Cross vice president of disaster operations and logistics.

The Red Cross doesn't have a great recent track record when it comes to storm relief, or transparency or honesty, NPR and ProPublica have reported since 2014. About a quarter of donations for Haiti after a terrible earthquake, or $124 million, went toward internal expenses, for example, according to a study released by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa). The organization also faced criticism for its handling of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and Sandy in 2012, among other disasters.

When NPR's Alisa Chang asked Kieserman how much of every donated dollar is going to Harvey relief, he said he didn't know. "Yeah, I don't think I have the answer to that any better than the chief fundraiser knows how many, how much it costs to put a volunteer downrange for a week and how many emergency response vehicles I have on the road today," he said. Chang noted the 25 percent of Haiti donations going to overhead and asked if that's still going on. "It's not something I would have any visibility on," Kieserman said, adding that "the folks I work for are very, very attentive to cost effectiveness and cost efficiencies in making sure that as much as every dollar that we spend on an operation is client-facing."

The Red Cross isn't the only reputable organization helping out with the Harvey relief and recovery effort, however. NPR has a list, plus some tips on avoiding scams.