Crime Victim Compensation Programs Across The Country Offer Important Financial Assistance To Victims Of Violence
The Following Overview Provides Information On How The Programs Operate And What Victims Can Do To Seek Help
Victims of violent crime may suffer financial stress as devastating as their physical injuries and emotional trauma. Recovering from violence or abuse is difficult enough without having to worry about how to pay for the costs of medical care and counseling, or about how to replace lost income due to disability or death.
The good news is that every state has a crime victim compensation program that can provide substantial financial assistance to crime victims and their families. And while no amount of money can erase the trauma and grief victims suffer, this aid can be crucial in the recovery process. By paying for care that restores victims’ physical and mental health, and by replacing lost income for victims who cannot work and for families who lose a breadwinner, compensation programs are helping victims regain their lives and their financial stability.
Victims of rape, assault, child sexual abuse, drunk driving, and domestic violence, as well as the families of homicide victims, are all eligible to apply for financial help. Nationally, close to a third of the recipients of compensation are children, most of whom are victims of sexual abuse.
Compensation programs can pay for a wide variety of expenses and losses related to criminal injury and homicide. Beyond medical care, mental health treatment, funerals, and lost wages, a number of programs also cover crime-scene cleanup, travel costs to receive treatment, moving expenses, and the cost of housekeeping and child care. And states continue to work with victims and advocates to find new ways to help victims with more of the costs of recovery.
Telling victims about compensation is the responsibility of every individual who works in victim services and law enforcement. This resource also should be made known by those who provide medical and counseling services. Compensation programs depend largely on these professionals who work with victims daily to get the message out that financial assistance is available, and programs typically expend a great deal of time and effort in providing training and information to them. We encourage everyone with a role in helping victims to get more details from the program in their state by contacting it directly.
Funding & Fund Recovery
Programs obtain their funding from a number of different sources, but the states can be divided into two basic categories: those that receive the bulk of their funding from fees or charges that offenders pay, and those that depend on general-revenue?appropriations from legislatures. More than four-fifths of the states are in the first category, gaining most of their income from offenders; in fact, in a large majority of states, no tax dollars are involved at all in either the administration of the program or in the awards given to victims.
The types and level of offender assessments vary somewhat from state to state. Many states require that offenders pay a set penalty or fee, such as $50 per felony and $25 per misdemeanor, into a crime victim compensation fund. Other states will take a certain percentage of the offender’s fine, or place a surcharge upon that fine, and use it for compensation funding. Some states also gain income from wages inmates earn in prison industries.
Because offenders and others liable for injury to victims should pay for the consequences of crime, and because programs need to make the most of the resources available for compensation, “fund recovery” has become an important concern for many programs. Some are aggressively seeking restitution from offenders by working with prosecutors and judges to ensure restitution orders are sought and issued, and by monitoring payment through appropriate channels.?While for most programs fund recovery is a minor source of total income, a few programs are beginning to recover close to 10% of their awards.
The Application Process
Application procedures vary slightly from state to state, but typically a victim will be referred to a compensation program by police, prosecutors, victim-witness programs or service providers. Victims also find out about compensation through posters, brochures, or PSAs developed by the program. Applications are usually available through law enforcement or victim assistance and service programs, or through direct contact with the compensation program. The process begins when an application is signed and submitted by the victim.
Most programs process claims through a staff centralized in one office in the state capital, but a few states have branch or regional offices or make use of locally based individuals in other agencies to perform preliminary work on applications, such as gathering documents.
Typically, states request and analyze police reports to confirm that a crime took place and to determine whether the victim was involved in any illegal or contributory activity when victimized. Information from service providers like hospitals, doctors, counselors, and funeral homes, as well as employers if work loss is claimed, forms the basis for benefit determinations.
Decision-making authority varies from state to state, with about a third of the states using part-time boards or commissions to determine eligibility?and awards, and the rest authorizing full-time administrative staff (usually program directors) to make determinations. In three court-based programs, judges or court officials decide claims.
The victim should file an application for compensation in the state where the crime takes place, regardless of the victim’s residency. All of the programs will cover terrorist crimes against their residents, and a few states will accept claims from residents for other types of crimes in foreign countries. With just a few exceptions, the programs will cover foreign residents injured in the states.
While eligibility requirements vary somewhat from state to state, all programs have the same basic criteria. The victim generally must:
Report the crime promptly to law enforcement (many states have a 72-hour standard, but nearly all states have “good cause” exceptions applied liberally to children, incapacitated victims, and in other special circumstances)
Cooperate with police and prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of the case (again, some states can make exceptions)
Submit a timely application to the compensation program, (generally one year from the date of the crime, though a number of states have longer time frames, and most can waive these requirements when appropriate) and provide other information as requested by the program
Have a cost or loss not covered by insurance or some other readily available collateral source
Be innocent of criminal activity or significant misconduct that caused or contributed to the victim’s injury or death
Apprehension and/or conviction of a perpetrator is not a prerequisite to receiving compensation.
All of the programs are authorized to deny or reduce benefits to people who are injured while committing crimes or engaging in substantial misconduct contributing to their victimization. Programs rely primarily on police reports to make these determinations, and expend considerable effort to make careful and appropriate decisions on these issues. Five state compensation laws also authorize denial based on prior criminal activity unrelated to the current victimization.
The eligibility of a victim’s dependents or other secondary victims generally hinges on the eligibility of the “direct” victim (the one who suffered the injury or death). For example, if a homicide victim was engaged in criminal activity, the family generally would be ineligible for any benefits.?Each state operates under its own law, rules, policies and procedures, and while all of the programs share broadly similar eligibility requirements, it’s important for those accessing any program to check with the individual state to learn exactly how it operates.
All compensation programs cover the same major types of expenses, though their specific limits may vary. The primary compensable costs covered by all states are the following:
Mental health counseling
Lost wages for victims unable to work because of crime-related injury
Lost support for dependents of homicide victims
Statistically, fees to hospitals, doctors and therapists comprise well over half of the amounts paid. Lost wage and support payments are the next largest expense category for most states. In addition, a number of other costs are paid for by some, but not all, programs, including the following:
Moving or relocation expenses, often limited only to instances where the victim is in imminent physical danger, or if the move is medically necessary (because of severe emotional trauma from sex assault, for example)
Transportation to medical providers, usually limited to occasions when the provider is located in a place distant from the victim’s residence, or when other special circumstances exist
Replacement services for work the victim is unable to perform because of crime-related injury (primarily child care and housekeeping), sometimes limited to payments to non-family members
Crime-scene cleanup, or the cost of securing a home or restoring it to its pre-crime condition
Rehabilitation, which may include physical therapy and/or job therapy
Modifications to homes or vehicles for paralyzed victims
Fees for attorneys who help victims apply, usually in limited amounts and sometimes only for appeals
Personal property stolen, lost or damaged during the crime is not covered, with just a few very limited exceptions (see Florida, New Jersey, and New York). All states will cover medically necessary equipment, such as eyeglasses or hearing aids; Only three states currently pay for pain and suffering (Hawaii, Rhode Island, and Tennessee)
Maximums and Limits
Maximum benefits available to victims from the state programs generally range between $10,000 and $25,000, though a few states have higher maximums. In addition, many states have lower limits on specific compensable expenses, like funerals and mental health counseling. A few states can provide extra benefits in homicides or catastrophic-injury cases. Many states are continuing to raise benefit levels overall as well as on individual categories, through legislative changes.