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Sandy Hook Two Years Later: Where Is The Aid Going?

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At a recent meeting of the state’s Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, the mother of one of the 20 children killed two years ago said trying to get help has been at best confusing, and at worst impossible, for many families.

“It is absolutely disheartening after 23 months to hear of an impacted family with unmet needs. That is a tragedy and should not be happening,” said Nelba Marquez-Greene, whose daughter, Ana, was killed. “Many of the supports that were advertised I have no idea where to get them or how to get them. In the end our own private insurance company paid for our mental health counseling and continues to do so.”

“So where is all of the mental health money going?”

A Courant review has found that since the 2012 Sandy Hook school shooting, the federal government has given the town of Newtown and several agencies just more than $17 million in aid that has been used primarily to enhance mental health services and school security.

Most of the money has gone into a wide variety of mental health and security needs, many of which are designed to address the broader impact on the community for many years to come. Grants from the U.S. Department of Education totaling $6.4 million have been used to hire teachers, mental-health practitioners, security guards and other personnel for the school system.

The town of Newtown and the state received $2.5 million for police overtime costs through one of three Department of Justice grants. Private organizations have received millions for therapy programs, administrative expenses and even a public relations firm.

The federal grants are in addition to the $28 million that was raised by more than 77 charities — meaning that $45 million, in total, has flowed into Sandy Hook in the last two years. About half of the charity money has yet to be spent — the state attorney general’s office in its final report on the Sandy Hook charities concluded about $15 million had been distributed with the rest earmarked for memorials or future mental health needs in the district.

Much of the money from the school grants has gone directly into the new Sandy Hook Elementary Schoolwhich reopened in a vacant school in Monroe. Two assistant principals were hired for $128,000, seven new substitute teachers were hired to assist the teaching staff, security guards were added and more nursing hours were added to handle the crush of visitors to that office. Records show there was nearly a 20 percent increase in student visits to the nurse’s office in the month after the school reopened, compared to the month before the shooting.

The funding started almost immediately after the Dec. 14 shootings, when Adam Lanza walked into the Sandy Hook Elementary School and killed 26 people, including 20 first-graders, before shooting himself.

Funding is scheduled to continue until at least the middle of 2016.

Where Is The Money Going?

Through Freedom of Information requests, The Courant has obtained grant applications and interim reports submitted by agencies that have received funding. An analysis of those records shows:

•Two agencies that received funding through the DOJ were the local United Way, which initially oversaw the victims’ fund, and the Newtown-Sandy Hook Foundation, the group formed to take over the distribution of that fund for the United Way. Records show that the United Way spent almost half of the $131,355 it received from a DOJ grant to hire the lobbying firm of Gaffney, Bennett and Associates to handle public relations. The Sandy Hook Foundation used $122,000 of federal money to hire an executive director.

•The DOJ money has funded two separate resiliency groups. The town-operated Newtown Recovery & Resiliency Plan is getting $826,443 through the latest 18-month DOJ grant. Records show more than $618,000 of that is going to hire at least four full-time staffers, including a community outreach liaison with a salary of $110,000, a project manager at about $73,000 and a case manager at about $61,000. The second group, a non-profit called the Resiliency Center of Newtown, is getting $501,000 from the second DOJ grant; of that, $408,000 is for salaries, including $82,000 each to hire an art and music therapist, records show.

•One of the education grants paid for more than 40 new school-system positions, including seven guidance counselors, five psychologists and six security guards. Several new positions were created to oversee the grant, including $61,861 to hire a project recovery director and about $32,000 to hire Melissa Brymer, aUCLA professor, to assist the community in applying for and implementing the School Emergency Response to Violence grants.

•The other big school-grant expenditure was for outside agencies brought in to assist the students and staff at the Sandy Hook school. For the first year, the Yale Child Study Center and Clifford Beers Clinic provided mental health services within the school. Clifford Beers has now become the sole provider.

Overall, about $1.3 million from the three SERVE education grants is earmarked for mental-health providers working in the school. In the first month after the school reopened, those providers assisted more than 1,500 students, records show.

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