Is BP Making Louisiana Charities Beg?

| Wed Aug. 4, 2010 11:00 AM EDT

Yesterday, Catholic Charities New Orleans announced that it's out of money to provide relief to oil-spill victims.

For the last several months, the organization has been giving grocery vouchers and help with rent and utilities, as well as mental health counseling, to some 19,000 families of fishermen in Louisiana. BP gave Catholic Charities $1 million in May, but since the services cost up to $120,000 a week, the group says that money is gone. Catholic Charities heads a coalition of local organizations that have requested $12 million from BP to help them continue providing aid, but so far to no avail. "They just keep saying, 'We'll get back to you, we'll get back to you,'" says Margaret Dubuisson, Catholic Charities' director of communications. "We don't know when, which is a problem."

So what does this mean for people who've been counting on charity when their BP claims checks have been late or drastically reduced? "We might have to move to a model where only the neediest get help, and those that have need but aren't the most in need don't get help," Dubuisson says. "In fact, we're moving to that model in two of our centers starting next week."

So far, despite media hype suggesting that the crisis is over, Catholic Charities has been adding new people to its aid rosters every week. At just one center this past Wednesday, says Dubuisson, "200 people showed up for 125 [grocery] cards. We're still seeing more people than we can help." Dubuisson says the organization is dipping into meager reserves to keep delivering aid for now, but doesn't have an alternate source of funding lined up. (The St. Bernard Project, another group in the aid coalition that also offers counseling to traumatized Louisianans, is hoping to win a grant from Pepsi.)

"We're moving forward delivering the services," in the meantime, Dubuisson says. "But you can only do that for so long."

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