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Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation To Begin Distribution To Victims' Families

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NEWTOWN FUND DISTRIBUTION
WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 27: Neil Heslin, father of six-year-old Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting victim Jesse Lewis, holds a picture of him with Jesse as he testifies during a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee February 27, 2013 on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on 'The Assault Weapons Ban of 2013.' EMS medical director of the Western Connecticut Health Network William Begg (R) also testified in the hearing. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images) | Getty Images

HARTFORD, Conn. -- The president of the foundation overseeing about $11.4 million in funds donated to Newtown in the wake of the shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School said Monday his group hopes to begin distributing money to the families of victims within a month.

The Newtown-Sandy Hook Community Foundation received clearance last week from Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen to go forward with a plan to hand out $7.7 million from the fund to families of the 26 people killed, 12 surviving children from the classrooms where people were shot and the two people wounded during the shooting.

Jepsen had met with the group last month to discuss concerns raised by some family members about the process for deciding who would receive the money.

In a letter dated May 30, Jepsen informed the foundation that while he is not endorsing any action, he "cannot conclude the foundation has acted imprudently or contrary to donor intent."

Dr. Charles Herrick, the foundation's president, said the group plans to go forward with its distribution plan, but not before meeting with families in private to discuss any individual concerns.

A three-member committee, headed by retired U.S. District Court Judge Alan Nevas, ultimately will make the decisions about how much each family will receive, he said. The panel will be advised by attorney Kenneth Feinberg, an expert in disaster-fund management who handled the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and is currently working on the fund set up to aid victims of the Boston Marathon bombing.

"Typically as these distributions go, the money is apportioned equally among the victims – those who lost loved ones, those who were physically injured and those who were immediately exposed to this trauma," Herrick said.

The foundation plans a more deliberative process before deciding how to spend the remaining $3.7 million in the fund, he said.

The group may decide to keep some of the money as an investment tool, keeping in mind that many of the survivors of the Dec. 14 massacre are children who may need help in the years to come.

Herrick said the town has hired a psychiatrist, Dr. Jill Barron, to do a long-term assessment of mental health needs of the community, and they plan to meet with her to discuss what resources will be available to meet those needs.

"We've already heard they have approved federal grants for school-based mental health services for the next two years, and they can reapply for that for two more years," he said. "So we are looking for after the grants end, what will be the needs after that."

Herrick said other charities have collected a total of about $9 million, some of it specifically targeted for things such as a permanent memorial in town.

"We certainly don't want to give money where it's not needed," he said. "So we also have to determine what is in these other funds and where the money is going."

Herrick said it's understandable that victims' families would have concerns about the fundraising and disbursement and he hopes they can allay those fears.

"Money has been raised, many of them feel, off the backs of their children," he said. "Nobody wants to profit from this. And the money needs to go to the people who have been victimized. Hopefully through the dialogue, they can understand and appreciate the fact that we are trying to be caretakers of their money."

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