BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Members of the public on Thursday will have their say on how millions of dollars will be spent from the Buffalo Survivor’s Fund.
So far, nearly $5 million has been raised to help families of victims and survivors in the Tops mass shooting.
But, how exactly will that money be spent?
That still needs to be worked out.
A public hearing on the fund will be held Thursday at 6 p.m. at City Honors in Buffalo.
Kishia Douglas says she was checking out at Tops, joking with the cashier, right before the mass shooting and managed to escape. She and others who say they were there say they’re dealing with mental health issues and cannot return to work.
“I was inside and I’m not the same person, I lost something I’m trying to figure out how am I supposed to live. When all of this is over, I’m not eligible for workers comp, I’m not eligible for unemployment,” Douglas said.
They say they should be entitled to money from the survivor’s fund, right now.
“At the end of the day, we all were affected I’m affected, they’re affected, you’re affected we’re all affected and we need to be treated equally,” said Brooklyn Hough, who says she’s a Tops employee and is now dealing with mental health issues.
According to the National Compassion Fund, the administrator of the survivor’s fund, a portion of the money has already been released, as advanced payments, to families of five of the 10 victims who were killed and the three who were injured.
“We should be right at the top with everyone else, I can’t work, he can’t work, she can’t work, so how are we supposed to live,” Douglas said.
But, according to the current proposed protocol for the fund, survivors who are suffering from psychological trauma cannot get advanced payments and need to apply for funds next month.
“A lot people say why does it take so long?” Jeff Dion, executive director of the National Compassion Fund, “First we collect all the money and see how much we get, then the steering committee can make informed decisions about what they can do.”
Dion acknowledges that there have been disagreements on who should be deemed a survivor and whether people who live in the area should qualify.
In order to confirm someone was a survivor, Dion says those people will be to be validated by police and/or Tops.
“The best way for us to validate is to validate their presence, if they’re an employee, we’ll validate their presence with Tops, if they were present as a customer or just someone who was in the parking lot we’ll validate their presence with law enforcement,” Dion said.
He adds that the fund needs to follow state gifting laws and make sure they don’t impact any Medicaid recipients negatively.
Fundraising for the survivor’s fund isn’t expected to close until mid-September, with payments being made into the fall on a rolling basis. The application process will be online. For those who want to see changes to the process, Dion recommends people make their voices heard.
“Come to the town hall, tonight we want to hear from you, anyone who wants to be involved in this process can be involved in the process,” Dion said, “That’s why it’s so important that we put this work in up front to give everybody a chance to understand and weigh in on what the rules will be governing eligibility and distribution of these funds.”
The steering committee for the Buffalo Survivor’s Fund will decide what the final rules are. The final protocol will be released next week. Business leaders and community leaders such as Bills legend Thurman Thomas and his wife, Patti sit on the committee.
Jeff Preval is an award-winning anchor and reporter who joined the News 4 team in December 2021. See more of his work here.