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Audit: Donate Life fund has sat unused

Local organ recipient expresses disappointment
Posted at 11:43 PM, Aug 02, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-03 00:01:09-04

A fund meant to help promote awareness for organ and blood donation has sat untouched for more than a decade, according to a new audit from the State Comptroller.

The "Life... Pass It On" Trust Fund was created more than a decade ago with the inception of New York's organ donation campaign and the rollout of special license plates and a check-off box on a driver's license application.

To have a special license plate, drivers must pay a $53.75 initial fee and a $25 annual fee. Eighty-percent of that annual fee goes into the Trust Fund. The fund is also bolstered by $1 donations included with the driver's license check-off box.  According to Comptroller Tom DiNapoli, that fund had more than $1 million in December 2015.

According to Tuesday's audit report, the state Department of Health has not spent any of that money.

“New Yorkers who tried to help others did not expect their money to sit unused in a bank account,” said DiNapoli.

“New York ranks among the lowest nationally in registering organ and tissue donors, yet we’re sitting on $1 million that could make a real difference in the lives of New Yorkers needing an organ transplant. Too many times we’ve found that state has failed to spend the money New Yorkers have given for worthy or lifesaving causes.”  

Jack O'Donnell is a Buffalo resident, a UNYTS board member and an organ recipient. It's been eight years since a liver transplant saved his life.  He said he is incredibly disappointed by the news of the unused funds, and believes many others in the transplant community will be as well.

"Donate Life is really about generosity, it's about making a difference," O'Donnell said.

"A lot of people signed up for these license plates to try to make sure that they put a couple extra dollars into this thing to try to make sure there was more education, to try to make sure other people get that same chance that I've been given."

In a statement, the State Department of Health discounted DiNapoli's audit calling it "outdated" because it no longer oversees the Donate Life program -- a private contractor took over the Donate Life registry in May.

"The Comptroller’s office knows this because it’s had the contract since then and has failed to move on it. Instead they chose to issue an outdated audit that, once again, cherry-picks the facts," said a spokesperson.