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Uvalde survivors face bureaucracy and confusion as they struggle to stay afloat financially

In the aftermath of the tragedy, thousands of people donated millions of dollars to help families and survivors. Now, those recovering say they need those funds.

By Sergio Martínez-Beltrán, The Texas Newsroom

Before May 24, the smile of Jessica Treviño’s 11-year-old daughter was contagious.

“She was always laughing,” Treviño said. “She would always come up to me, hug me, kiss me and just want to be next to me. Now? I don't know my daughter any more.”

That drastically changed the day of the shooting at Robb Elementary School, which left 19 students and two teachers dead.

Treviño’s daughter is one of the school’s nearly 600 students still reeling in the massacre’s aftermath. While the 11-year-old wasn't physically injured, since the shooting, stress has dominated the little girl's thoughts.

“We have a soccer game this Saturday, and the first thing she asked me — ‘What if they shoot it up? What if I lose my brothers and sisters?’” Treviño said. “How do I respond to that?”

Her daughter’s health has also deteriorated. Treviño said the girl’s cardiologist explained the trauma of the shooting has affected her cardiac health.

“She can't even ride her bike down the street because she gets so exhausted from her heart not being able to work right,” Treviño said.

Since the shooting, Treviño’s weeks are full of trips to San Antonio, taking her daughter to see specialists and counselors.

She said that’s costing the family about $2,000 per week. On top of that, she’s also paying for the mental health treatment two of her other kids are receiving.

“And then you still have your house payments. I have a mortgage payment. I have a light bill. I have a water bill,” Treviño said.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, thousands of people donated millions of dollars to help families and survivors. Now, those recovering — like Treviño’s family — say they need those funds.

She’s paying most of it out of pocket with her savings from working as a housekeeper, and she has a  GoFund Me account set up for her daughter.

Treviño should be eligible for reimbursements from the state through the Texas Crime Victims Assistance Grant Program. While she said she has filled out an application, she has yet to receive any funds.

For survivors in Uvalde, navigating the system to get assistance has proven to be confusing and extremely bureaucratic.

“We have a lot of people looking for financial help,” said state Sen. Roland Gutierrez, a Democrat who represents Uvalde. “Their children don't want them to go back to work. It’s just a mess. I mean, it's just a mess.”

He's been helping families of the victims access resources and financial aid.

But there are many moving pieces. Gutierrez said many parents have not received help.

He placed part of the blame with Uvalde District Attorney Christina Mitchell.

Earlier this month, Gutierrez penned a joint letter with Uvalde Mayor Don McLaughlin to Gov. Greg Abbott, asking for the removal of Mitchell as the overseer of the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center.

Gutierrez said Mitchell was given $5 million to provide help through the center.

But Mitchell told The Texas Newsroom that money is just for the center’s day-to-day operations, and “is not to be distributed directly to any families, any victims or anything like that.” Mitchell said, “The grant actually prohibits it.”

As of recently, the San Antonio-based Ecumenical Center has taken the helm of the Uvalde Together Resiliency Center.

“We all know that we're not equipped to run a resiliency center, to provide counseling,” Mitchell said. “We don't have experience with that.”

Mitchell said her office has been helping people fill out the applications for reimbursements with the victims assistance program. The money can be used to cover lost wages, medical bills, utility bills, and more.

Once those applications are completed, Mitchell says reimbursements are up to the Texas Attorney General’s Office.

According to the Texas Attorney General’s Office, as of Wednesday, $31,158.93 have been distributed to 34 families of victims and those injured at the shooting.

Millions in donations

The other big pool of money is the Uvalde Together We Rise Fund. That fund is being overseen by the National Compassion Fund.

“You had all these different pots of money, who were collecting donations, very well-intentioned, and now they are coming together and they are all going to combine for us to do a distribution plan,” Jeff Dion, the organization’s executive director, told The Texas Newsroom.

Ultimately, the fund is expected to have about $14 million, said Dion, who also acknowledged the confusion around the money.

“This is the fourth fund I’ve done in Texas, and Texas doesn’t have a plan in place for donation management in the aftermath of a mass casualty event,” Dion said. The organization has overseen other similar funds in Texas after the 2019 shooting in El Paso and the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe.

Dion added the guidelines surrounding distributing the money in Uvalde have yet to be written.

“Some people think that people who were not injured shouldn't get anything. Some people think that people who were not injured should get something, but only if they were in the fourth grade building. Some people think that even the kids who weren't there at the time and went home early should also get something,” Dion said. “And so we're trying to get feedback from the community.”

The National Compassion Fund will host a town hall in Uvalde on Aug. 11, and Dion says families should start receiving distributions in the next few months.

In the meantime, Jessica Treviño, the mother of the 11-year-old Robb Elementary student, isn't waiting.

She said she, and many other parents, are in a constant battle day-to-day, just trying to stay afloat.

Treviño says she hopes every Robb Elementary student will get some funding to help them process the trauma they experienced.

“All of them were affected in one way or another,” Treviño said. “All of them.”