Why is the Red Cross suddenly under criticism?

Questions persist amid Hurricane Harvey relief.

The Red Cross is synonymous with disaster relief; something bad happens, and the organization is on the ground without delay, helping people get back on their feet.

And yet, in the midst of the Hurricane Harvey disaster, it has become the latest target of the social media outrage machine.

This week, Twitter users have been urging each other not to donate to the American Red Cross (ARC), and some (including celebrities) are shaming the group over the way it handles donated money:

What, exactly, is everyone mad about?

The Red Cross is under criticism for its financial transparency (or a lack thereof), as well as persistent reports that it failed to use substantial amounts of donated funds to help victims of Superstorm Sandy and the 2010 earthquake in Haiti. 

For instance, last year, a congressional inquiry by Senator Chuck Grassley found that a huge chunk of the money ARC raised for Haiti – about $124 million out a total of $487 million – ended up being used internally. 

Grassley's report also found that "ARC does not track costs on a project by project basis; instead it uses a complex, yet inaccurate, process to track its spending."

And as NPR notes, the organization has been tight-lipped about where exactly your money goes when you donate it to them. 

The Red Cross responds

ARC's vice president of disaster operations and logistics, Brad Kieserman, was asked to address these criticisms during an NPR interview Wednesday.

Unfortunately, it didn't do much to clear up the cloud over the Red Cross. 

When asked how much of every donated dollar goes to relief, Kieserman said "I don't think I know the answer to that any better than the chief fundraiser knows how many, how much it costs" to carry out emergency response efforts.

When it came to those controversial internal expenses, his answer was much the same: "It's not something I have visibility on in the role that I play in this organization."

But a Thursday interview with ARC CEO Gail McGovern seemed to go a bit better.

"On average," she told CBS This Morning, "91 cents of every dollar" goes to Red Cross services – meaning things like food, supplies and cleanup kits.

She wasn't able to say how much ARC has raised for Hurricane Harvey so far, because the amount is "literally changing by the hour."

McGovern added, "we'll be able to give you a good idea of how much money we've raised" next week. 

How legit is the American Red Cross anyway?

Despite all these questions, the non-profit organization is "a congressionally chartered instrumentality of the United States Government" going back to 1900, Grassley's report noted

In other words, it's not a government agency, but it officially works alongside the government and helps coordinate relief efforts after natural disasters.

Or, as CBS This Morning put it, ARC is "a federally-designated co-lead for mass care during disasters."

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