Financial payouts to start in West, but questions persist

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by TODD UNGER

Bio | Email | Follow: @toddWFAA8

WFAA

Posted on October 2, 2013 at 10:00 PM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 2 at 10:36 PM

WEST — The West Long-Term Recovery Center is moving ahead with plans to distribute millions of dollars in private donations that have funneled into the town since a deadly April 17 fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 people.

Perhaps as many as 20 families could see a check next week, said John Crowder, who sits on a board that oversees the center.

"It is time to help people move forward," he told News 8 on Wednesday.

But the timing of the announcement comes as a growing number of West residents are starting to ask pointed questions about why nearly $3.6 million in private donations are yet to be distributed.

"Why has it taken six months to get this money to people?" asked Sharon Rios.

Her mother, Elizabeth Maler, lost her home of nearly 40 years in the blast. Maler has some insurance money, but was still counting on a check from the recovery center.

"I've waited and waited and never heard anything," she said.

Mayor Tommy Muska said he has also heard some complaints, but stressed that the center had to undergo a lengthy process of 501 (c)(3) status approval before it could really start moving.

"It takes time to do it right," Muska said. "It is a relief that next week it could start."

As News 8 reported earlier this summer, the 501 (c)(3) status actually happened months ago, but there were other legal and logistical matters that needed to be ironed out, Crowder said.

On top of that, he says because of IRS regulations, families that have filed for help need to exhaust every penny from FEMA and other resources before getting a check from the center.

Rios said they appreciate the complications, but don't understand why it wasn't handled differently from the get-go.

"Some people have moved on, and it's too late," Rios said.

Details on the criteria for deciding which families receive money — and when — are expected to be announced at a Thursday news conference.

A committee separate from the board of the recovery center is expected to evaluate more than 500 cases, or potential recipients.

The money in question doesn't include FEMA or state aid, insurance payouts, or other money or supplies that were collected and distributed by local churches.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com

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