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Buffalo mass shooting survivor and community funds: where the money is going and how to get help

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Posted at 4:20 PM, May 26, 2022
and last updated 2022-05-27 15:49:04-04

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WKBW) — The Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund is the largest organized charitable fund for victims of the mass shooting on Jefferson Avenue and their families. As of this writing, nearly $1.9 million has been raised so far-- but much more is expected.

Since the fund was started, the 7 News newsroom has received numerous questions from donors and victims' families about where that money is going, and how soon money will get in the hands of intended recipients.

Below is information about the Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund as well as how families can unlock emergency funding assistance to help with funeral/burial expenses.

Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund (administered by the National Compassion Fund)

7 News met with Jeff Dion, Executive Director of the National Compassion Fund, and Pastor Mark Blue, the Fund's local steering committee Co-Chair and President of the NAACP Buffalo Branch, for an understanding of how and when donations will be distributed.

How much money goes to victims, their families, and survivors?

"The most important thing with one of these funds, and the fundamental premise, is that 100 percent of the donations that are donated for victims go to victims. We don't take a dime out for administrative costs or anything else," said Dion.

Who decides who is eligible for donated funds?

A local steering committee made up of Buffalo-based civic, community, business, and faith leaders, as well as victims' advocates and attorneys will create a draft protocol that will define who is eligible for the money and how the application process will work. Blue and Paul Vukelic, CEO of Try-It Distributing, will Co-Chair the steering committee.

"We will be doing with great diligence, coming up with a process to which we feel that the compensation is given out fairly," said Blue.

Once that protocol is created, it will go to the public for review and comment. Following that public comment period, the steering committee will hold a town hall to get in-person feedback. Based on all the information they get from the community, they will adjust the protocol as necessary. The final protocol will be published on the National Compassion Fund's website with details about how to apply for money.

"The actual policy decisions about, how do we define eligibility, how do we define injury, how do we make the decision about how these funds are going to be distributed among these survivors, there's no right or wrong answer, but most important is that it's the local answer," said Dion.

How long will the process take?

Blue estimates it will be a 5-6 month process.

"We ask that we continue to be patient. That's a bad word in a crisis like this, but we're trying to do the best we can to make sure that the families, and to make sure that the victims, are being taken care of," said Blue.

That timeline reflects previous National Compassion Fund fundraisers, like the one for people impacted by the condo collapse in Surfside, Florida.

I think I might be eligible to receive funds. How do I know when to apply?

People who believe they might be eligible for funds are encouraged to register for updates on the National Compassion Fund's Buffalo 5/14 Survivors Fund web page.

Will I have to pay taxes on the money I receive?

Dion says the National Compassion Fund has a local member of Congress reach out to the IRS to have a letter written that explains the tax implications, generally, for recipients of gifts. Dion then encourages recipients to take that letter to their accountant so that the accountant can advise them about the tax law. Broadly speaking, Dion says the recipient of a monetary gift is not subject to tax on it, but he encourages people speak with a tax accountant.

How do I know the money is getting into the right hands?

According to Dion, applicants are vetted by volunteer paralegals from two law firms. Those paralegals will review the applications and verify the authenticity of the victim/survivor on the application, as well as the kinship of the victim/survivor if applicable. The paralegals will also ensure the vetting process was done appropriately.

Immediate Monetary Assistance for Victims and their Families

There is more immediate money being made available to victims and their families needing help covering burial and funeral expenses. Below is information provided by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership:

  • The New York State Office of Victim Services is providing $6,000 per family for funeral and burial expenses. OVS is managed by the Erie County District Attorney's Office. Contact for assistance with filing OVS claims is Homicide/Witness Protection Case Manager Kim Rapp: 716-858-4625.
  • The National Action Network (NAN) has pledged to cover any remaining funeral/burial expenses and associated costs. NAN is working directly with victims’ family members Contact for National Action Network is Rev. DeVes Toon: toon@nationalactionnetwork.net
  • Signature Development and Douglas Development have contributed a total of $100,000 in restricted cash donations to support these costs. Funds are allocated equitably, up to $10,000 per family, to reimburse funeral related expenses not covered by the NYS Office of Victim Services.

How it Works

  • The Erie County District Attorney’s Office works to assess the needs of each family. All requests must be made by the designated representative of the victim’s family to the DA’s office. The designated representatives from each victim’s family can request travel arrangements for up to four (4) out of town relatives. These relatives must be noted on the DA’s victim support document. Those identified family members will be called directly by a travel agent to book airline, hotel and ground transportation, and those costs will be prepaid by the Douglas Development/ Signature Development fund. If the four designated family members use other forms of transportation, those costs can be reimbursed. All requests for reimbursement must be approved by the family’s designated representative and appear on the DA’s victim support request form. Reimbursements will require proper documentation (receipts etc.).
  • To assist with immediate needs, $750 from the family’s allocated donation (up to up to $10,000) will be given to each family in the form of cash cards. Cards will be dispensed by the DA’s office to each designated family representative the week of 5/23/2022.
  • Other priority needs of the family will be assessed by the DA’s office and then referred to BNP for allocation from the Douglas Development/Signature Development fund or connection to community partner (for example, special accommodations for funeral transportation, repast etc.)
  • Any expenses incurred not noted on the victim’s support request form submitted to the DA’s office will not be eligible for reimbursement.