Democratic lawmaker back from Haiti says Red Cross nowhere to be found

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), who traveled to Haiti with Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas) earlier this week, said Thursday the internationally renowned relief group was nowhere to be found in Haiti.

"We were actually pretty struck by the fact that we didn't see the Red Cross anywhere, at all," Wasserman Schultz said during an appearance on Florida radio station WTFL.

The Florida congresswoman said that what she saw gave her pause in recommending the Red Cross as a venue for donations. "I wouldn't say that," she said when asked if the Red Cross was the best place for listeners to donate, adding later that she could not "unequivocally" recommend the relief group.

Millions of dollars have flowed into Haiti since a large earthquake devastated its capital, Port au Prince, in late January.

The Red Cross raised millions of dollars for Haitian earthquake relief via a text messaging donation campaign that was promoted by several members of Congress.

President Barack Obama established a fund in the wake of the disaster, headed by former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, to ensure proper handling of donations to relief efforts.

Wasserman Schultz said that she and the lawmakers with whom she was traveling would look into the Red Cross's work there in the future.

"I'm not disparaging the Red Cross, but I personally and the senators I was traveling with want to inquire as to what the Red Cross is doing down there," she said.

Update, 3:03 p.m.: The American Red Cross sent the following statement in response:

The American Red Cross has been on the ground responding in Haiti since the moment the earthquake struck and has spent a record $110 million so far for food, water, shelter, health and family services. Our efforts have touched the lives of close to two million people.

Unlike disasters here at home, the model we use for international disasters is not to send in large numbers of American Red Cross volunteers who may not speak the language or know the people, but work though, in this case, the Haitian Red Cross to deliver relief supplies. This is a model that has repeatedly proven effective over decades of international disaster relief work because local Red Cross societies know the people, language, and geography and have established relationships with other organizations and the government. By working through the Haitian Red Cross, we believe we can empower them and help the Haitian people become self-sufficient more quickly.

So far the American Red Cross has sent more than 165 trained disaster specialists and volunteers to Haiti to help support and train more than 10,000 Haitian Red Cross volunteers. We are also working alongside hundreds of Red Cross and Red Crescent workers and volunteers from around the world.

The results of our efforts are evident in many areas around Haiti. For example, the American Red Cross has provided 111,000 tarps, 4,400 tents, 29,000 shelter kits and 248,000 blankets. These tents, tarps and blankets may not be marked with Red Crosses, but they were paid for by donors who gave so generously to the American Red Cross.

The Red Cross network has also provided relief items to 400,000 people, supplied meals to more than 1 million people, distributed 60 million liters of clean drinking water, built more than 1,300 latrines and helped vaccinate more than 152,00 people.

In areas where the American Red Cross does not have extensive expertise, we have donated millions of dollars to other organizations to ensure the needs of earthquake survivors are met in the fastest, most effective way. Those agencies include the World Food Programme to provide meals for 1 million people for 1 month, Habitat for Humanity to fund 14,000 emergency shelter kits to benefit 70,000 people and Fonkoze to fund small grants and microfinance loans to 16,000 people.