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NYS Exposed: Money for charity sitting in state coffers

August 25, 2016 06:32 PM

When you give to charity, you expect your money will be used appropriately. But when New York State is the middleman, that may not be the case. Hundreds of thousands of dollars meant to support very serious causes have been sitting in state coffers for more than a decade.

When given the opportunity to help, most of us will.  If you're really passionate about a cause, you might consider a customized license plate or an extra donation at the end of the year. But a recent audit by the NYS Comptroller’s office indicates your money may not have been spent to support the cause at all.

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Douglas Beck is on the waiting list for a heart transplant but he's not strong enough to wait at home, so he spends his days at Strong Hospital. Marlisa Post had a double lung transplant a year ago and she knows the agony that Douglas is going through.

"Going through a day while you're on that waiting list is so hard because you're just waiting for that call and every day that call doesn't come, you feel like you're one day closer to not making it,” Post says.

To help all those in need of a transplant, New York State launched a campaign called “Life...Pass it On" back in 2004. Basically, the fund offers taxpayers a way to donate through a $1 donation box on license renewals or by ordering custom license plates with a logo on it. According to the DMV’s website, the money is supposed to be used for “organ donation and transplant research, and educational programs promoting organ and tissue donation” but the nearly $1.1 million raised has just been sitting in an account for the past decade.

Jennifer Lewke: "They never used a single dime of this money?"

John Buyce, NYS Comptroller's Office: "They never used a single dime of the money from 'Life…Pass It On.' I was as surprised as you to find out that the state sat around for ten years and collected money from taxpayers to fund some effort to try and save people's lives and we hadn't spent a dollar on it. People are giving this over and above their regular taxes and fees and things that they pay government because they want something to happen and we've got a responsibility to them to make it happen."

The New York State Department of Health has been tasked with managing the "Life…Pass it On" fund.  It has not made a single disbursement from it since its inception in 2004. Currently, the fund has a balance of $1,076,541. DOH has made some disbursements from the other funds it manages which are for Autism Awareness, Diabetes and Multiple Sclerosis but there is collectively over $100,000 remaining in those funds too.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health sent News10NBC the following statement on Thursday: "Whether it is organ donation or any other important cause that the Department collects funds for, it is not simply enough just to spend the money in the funds. The Department’s goal is to make the best investments that will have the most profound impact on these issues and by spending the accounts down year to year, the Department runs the risk of limiting what the fund could accomplish in the future... Now that the Comptroller’s Office has approved the contract for the Donate Life Registry, the Department of Health will continue to actively consider how to best distribute the remaining funds in the account while also engaging our contractor, the New York Alliance for Donation to promote organ donation initiatives across the state."  

The contract, DOH is referring to is a $1,378,500 agreement for the next 5 years with the New York Alliance for Donation who will take over the state-wide registry. Legislative changes were necessary before that contract could be approved as the trust was originally set up to supplement state investments that were already in place, not replace them.

Patience, an organ recipient from Pennfield, who has paid extra to have the “Life…Pass it On” plates for years says if that’s the approach, the state should be more transparent about it. "I guess I just assumed that the money went for promotion, to get it out there, awareness.  I'm actually surprised that it hasn't gone anywhere for anything good," she tells News10NBC.

Credits

Jennifer Lewke

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