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Waverly flood victims still waiting for disaster money


Some tough questions are being asked months after that devastating flooding in Waverly.
Some tough questions are being asked months after that devastating flooding in Waverly.(WSMV)
Updated: Nov. 11, 2021 at 6:00 PM CST
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WAVERLY, Tenn. (WSMV) - News4 Investigates follows the money trail as Waverly flood victims say they are still waiting for disaster relief money three months later.

News4 investigates asking tough questions to nonprofits following the deadly flooding in Waverly. Organizations have raised more than $6 million so far. Still, many flood victims want to know why they’re not receiving more money.

“It’s very hard. I’m sorry,” Megan Swaw said.

While her home near Waverly was untouched by the deadly flood, Swaw said she couldn’t help but think about what happened to all that donated money her friends could use right now?

“It makes me very mad because you have all these families who have lost everything, and they have nothing to start over with,” Swaw said.

It’s a concern repeated on social media over and over again.

“There’s so many people in need who need stuff now,” said Loyce Holland, who lives in Waverly and owns a small business there as well.

During our three-month-long investigation, News4 Investigates found out some organizations are still holding onto money, a lot of it. One of those is The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee.

Since August, the nonprofit has raised nearly $3 million, but flood victims have only seen 11% of that so far.

“People are frustrated who live there. I know. Do you understand why they are?” News 4 Reporter Lindsay Bramson asked.

“Yes. 100%,” Amy Fair, Vice President, Donor Services, said.

Fair said the foundation’s entire purpose is long-term recovery, doling out money to nonprofits and charities to help people rebuild their lives.

“If we gave everything all at once, there’s still going to be a need later on,” Fair said.

“I think if they have money, they need to distribute it to the people who really need it,” Holland said.

That’s exactly what the United Way of Humphreys County said it’s doing.

“100% of the money coming in is going out for the flood survivors and helping them recover,” United Way of Humphreys County Executive Director Nioka Curtis said.

The United Way of Humphreys County received more than $1 million in donations, all of which went to victims, providing the average family $1,800 each.

Waverly resident Anetta Sykes has to gut her entire home after the flood as it destroyed its inside. Sykes received $1,250 from the United Way but only $500 from the Red Cross.

“How fast did you go through that $500?” Bramson asked Sykes.

“Oh yeah, it didn’t last long,” Sykes said.

That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the $1.9 million in donations the Red Cross received. Bramson had some questions for Red Cross officials.

“Do you see how somebody out there hears that and says I don’t understand why we’re not getting more money?” Bramson said.

“Yes, I understand why they might feel that way because they have a need,” Regional Executive Director Joel Sullivan said.

The organization said they’ve spent all of that and more for a total of $1.9 million to provide housing, meals, and gas. It also pays salaries for the staff.

News 4 asked for the breakdown. Only about half the money raised went to things like hotel rooms, medical needs, and financial assistance.

“I think it’s wrong. I think it’s very wrong. We have so many flat areas now where homes are gone, and they need it now,” Swaw said. “Quit holding onto it.”

You want to do your research before you donate to an organization. Ask questions, and make sure you know how much of your money is going directly to victims.

News4 Investigates did some digging to find out who holds nonprofits accountable in Tennessee. We found out it’s the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office that does.

The office told News4 nonprofits legally have to report contributions quarterly, and if they don’t, they could face fines. They can also be fined for any misconduct. However, a spokesperson told News4 The Red Cross, Tennessee Region has not been fined for anything in the last five years.

News4 knows some of these groups still have money, and you can count on us to keep asking those tough questions until it’s all in the hands of those who need it.

For more about the Red Cross Tennessee locations, click here. For more on the United Way of Humphreys County, click here. For more information on The Community Foundation, click here.

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