How should the Sandy Hook victims fund be divided?

The families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman opened fire on school children and staff in Newtown, Connecticut on December...
The families of victims grieve near Sandy Hook Elementary School, where a gunman opened fire on school children and staff in Newtown, Connecticut on December...
Adrees Latif/Reuters, File

The drawn-out process of distributing millions of dollars collected in the wake of the Sandy Hook elementary school massacre has agonized and infuriated many. The victims’ families and other Newtown, Conn., community members vented at a town hall meeting held Thursday to discuss how the funds would be doled out.

Rob Accramondo, the founder of the My Sandy Hook Family Fund, said those gathered for the meeting on Thursday wished the fund had been dealt with “in a much more transparent way.”

He added, “The ability to ask questions to the decision makers would have been nice.”

And David Lewis, whose grandson Jesse was killed in the attack, stressed that the money needed to go to where the donors thought it would, “Because if it doesn’t go to right place this time, people may not give next time,” he said.

“This process is re-victimizing the victims,” said Caryn Kaufmann, a victims’ advocate, to applause from other community members at the meeting at Edmond Town Hall in Newtown.

It’s been nearly seven months since 20-year-old Adam Lanza stalked through Sandy Hook elementary school, killing 20 first-graders and six staff members in a shooting spree that shocked the nation.

Although millions in donations poured into the fund, none of the $7.7 million dedicated to go to families of the victims has been disbursed yet due to a battle with the Sandy Hook Community Foundation over the amount the families will get, how much goes to the community, and the process being used.

At Thursday night’s public meeting, which only lasted about 30 minutes, a committee distributed a plan it developed with the advice of Ken Feinberg, the lawyer who oversaw victims fund from 9/11, the Virginia Tech massacre and the Boston Marathon bombing.

But those in attendance wanted to know why there was not a more transparent system in place earlier to help determine how the money got divvied up. They also wanted to know what happens to the funding raised in the future, and why this was their first shot at getting a public say.

Proposed plan gives lion’s share to deceased victim’s families

The newly introduced plan calls for 95% of the $7.7 million to go to the families of deceased victims, with the remaining 5% reserved for two people who were injured during the shooting and the families whose children witnessed the attack.

The 26 families of the deceased will each receive $281,000 under the plan. The two injured may receive a total of $150,000, while those whose children witnessed the shooting may receive $20,000 each.

The proposal states that 12 families are eligible to claim their children witnessed the shooting.

A final protocol will be adopted July 15, with Aug. 2, 2013 being the deadline for claims submissions.

The proposal calls for final payments to be made around Aug. 16, 2013.

Thursday’s town hall was “an opportunity for whoever wants to speak out,” said the committee chairman, retired federal judge Alan Nevas. “There may be curiosity in terms of the process. Some people may want specifics in terms of numbers. And there has been controversy in terms of the 70-30 allocation.”

The fund, which was initially run by United Way of Western Connecticut, collected $11.4 million and has decided that 70% will go to the victims while 30% will be set aside for undefined community needs.

But when a woman asked about the split during the town hall, Nevas said the town hall was only meant to address the $7.7 million amount.

Family members have complained the decision-making process was not transparent and pleaded for an independent figure to oversee the fund. At a meeting in June, two mothers ran from the room crying, according to the Hartford Courant.

Feinberg–who managed to start funneling $60 million in funds to Boston Marathon victims in just 60 days after the bombing – is serving only as a consultant to the Newtown committee.

“I have no binding authority,” he said.

Having handled so many cases, he noted that there is always frustration involved on the part of the victims.

“Is the money adequate? No, it’s not adequate. It’s never adequate,” he told NBC Connecticut.

The three-person committee was to meet privately after the hearing and again on Friday, and Nevas said he expects a final decision early next week. Feinberg said he hopes families will start receiving funds by Aug. 15.

Nevas said he did not want to comment on why the process has been so protracted.

“I know why it’s taken so long,” he said. “I don’t want to ruffle any feathers.”

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How should the Sandy Hook victims fund be divided?