Even as President Donald Trump and U.S. officials vow to offer all manner of post-hurricane assistance, the cries go out from the U.S. territory of Puerto Rico.

The mayor of the capital city San Juan has issued a plea for urgent help, expressing frustration with the speed at which rescuers are being set to work on the hurricane-ravaged U.S. territory.

“This is a big S.O.S for anybody out there,” Carmen Yulin Cruz told MSNBC Tuesday night, “a plea for this help, which is right here, to get moving.”

The mayor complained that rescuers have been left without marching orders and said she was aware of instances where medics waited for two days before being briefed.

“The red tape needs to be ripped off as if it were a band aid,” she said. “There are boots on the ground … but those boots need to start walking.”

If that is accurate, the mayor is right. Puerto Rico is in desperate shape after Hurricane Maria smashed the island. By all reports, the electric power grid has been virtually destroyed along with facilities and residences across the island. People are desperate for water and food.

While no amount of assistance can come fast enough, the political debate about helping Puerto Rico is sure to grow more heated. Despite the president’s continued pronouncements about assistance and his correct analysis that getting aid to the island is more difficult than assisting in continental locations such as Florida and Texas, critics contend the president is more interested in other matters. They would like to make Puerto Rico the political equivalent of Hurricane Katrina a decade ago for President George W. Bush, who never lived down the storyline that he did too little too late for New Orleans and the states affected by the great storm.

The debate won’t help Puerto Rico – and more than the assistance of the U.S. government is and will be needed for a long period.

Americans are sure to reach out to help. They always do.

But with so much post-hurricane assistance needed in so many places this year, it may be hard to determine which organizations to assist with donations.

David Campbell is an associate professor of public administration at Binghamton University, State University of New York, and previously served on Charity Navigator's Academic Advisory Board and on the board of the United Way of New York State from 2012-14. As a scholar who has studied philanthropy after disasters, he has advice offered via writing for theconversation.com.

First, he says decide what’s important to you: Do you prefer to support local, national or global organizations? Would you rather give directly to individuals in need?

Also consider timing. Do you care more about helping people immediately or over the long term? Hurricane survivors need food, shelter and other basics right away. But relief efforts may take many years as devastated communities rebuild.

Once you set priorities, seek groups that do the kind of work you care about most.

Campbell notes that no matter where emergencies arise, international organizations such as Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Americares and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) respond and provide relief.

In choosing those organizations or others, look for information about their track records.

“Any nonprofit asking for your money after a hurricane or earthquake (or at any time, for that matter) should make it easy to find information about results on their website,” Campbell states.

For instance, the Red Cross website includes a long list of publications regarding its responses to disasters, and the Salvation Army has posted videos, with more limited information, that describe its efforts in response to Hurricane Katrina and the Haiti earthquake.

Look for answers to these questions. After the last disaster:

• Did they spend all the money they received?

• How did they spend it?

• Did the money make a meaningful difference in addressing people’s needs?

Charity rating websites can also be used to discover if you should be concerned about the group you want to support.

These sites score nonprofits by applying their own criteria, making comparison easy. What they rate varies but usually includes financial performance, management practices and transparency. Charity Navigator, the Better Business Bureau/Wise Giving Alliance and Charity Watch are among the best-known.

The bottom line is, as Campbell writes: “Give what you can spare after disasters. But, as the old adage suggests, good intentions don’t always yield good results. Doing a little research and following these guidelines can help you feel more confident about your donations and the difference they will make.”


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