1st donations after Newtown shooting being spent

January 18, 2013 - 3:32 PM

NEWTOWN, Conn. (AP) — The first of the money donated through the United Way after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School is being spent in part to meet the immediate needs of first responders, teachers and others who lost wages and may have exhausted their benefits.

The United Way of Western Connecticut said Friday that it's set up a $200,000 fund, which also is being used for youth programs and for mental health services for those affected by the shooting that left 20 students and six adults dead.

Kim Morgan, chief executive officer of the United Way of Western Connecticut, said most of that money will be released in the next week.

"The only thing that we did commit to already was two-way radios for the teachers in the school," she said. "They wanted that to feel secure and be able to communicate to first responders directly. So we committed to help fund that."

The $200,000 is separate from the Sandy Hook School Support Fund, which had a balance of $8.5 million as of Friday morning, Morgan said.

A transition team of community leaders, being advised by former U.S. Sen. Joe Lieberman, met Friday to discuss the establishment of the foundation that will distribute that money. The team includes representatives from the town government, board of education, Newtown Savings Bank and the United Way.

The foundation will be broader based and will not spend any money without first getting input from the victims' families and the Newtown community, said Selectman Will Rodgers, chairman of the transition team.

He said it likely will have committees to deal with specific areas of need, such as a mental health committee, a memorial committee and a scholarship committee.

He said the transition team also envisions the foundation keeping some of the money as an investment base to ensure there are funds available to meet the town's needs years down the road.

"Things such as post-traumatic stress disorders and other needs might not arise for some time," Rodgers said.

Lieberman, who retired this month after 24 years in the U.S. Senate, said he hopes some of his experiences in dealing with families after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks will help in guiding the disbursement process.

"Sometimes as the particular occurrence of the tragedy fades away there have been disagreements, quite understandable, in communities about how to react and how to spend money that has come in," he said. "I just hope that I can play a mediating role here in making sure the extraordinary strength and unity of the Newtown community in response to Sandy Hook will be sustained as the community decides how to spend this money and what else to do to respond to the tragedy."

The foundation will reach out and offer to administer funds set up by other groups. Rodgers said the town has compiled a preliminary eight-page list of people who have been raising money but may have no idea how to operate legally as a charity.

He said the foundation would help them with tax liability and other issues, while the original fundraisers would still be in charge of distributing their money.

He said while the $8.5 million in the Sandy Hook School Support Fun won't be spent right away, there is no shortage of other charitable money available right now for those who need it.

"It will be there," Rodgers said. "There is a wealth of money available for short-term needs and long-term needs. The level of specificity is amazing. There are funds for cultural arts, service-dog funds."