Researchers with the University of Tennessee have found funds distributed by Dolly Parton’s My People Fund greatly improved the lives Gatlinburg and Sevier County wildfire survivors.

The fund provided families who lost their homes in the December 2016 wildfires with $1,000 per month for six months and a final gift of $5,000 in May 2017.

Prof. Stacia West and others in the UT College of Social Work asked a sample of My People Fund recipients to respond to survey questions in April 2017 and again in December 2017. They found that cash transfers, compared to specific donations, may be an important and underutilized approach to recovery from a national disaster.

The survey showed that most respondents moved back into their original housing type and more people are now insured than were previously. Although wildfire survivors say financial struggles continue, many showed signs of financial recovery. Many recipients continued to work while receiving funds and reported savings rates and amounts of savings in case of another financial disaster increased. Still though, household incomes among wildfire survivors are considerably lower than the median for the area, but their housing burdens are high.

There is a sharp increase in reported symptoms of physical and emotional problems among wildfire survivors and there is a parallel rise in people seeking treatment.