Of the estimated 7600 people involuntarily sterilized pursuant to state eugenics policies from the 1930s until 1974, only slightly more than ten percent have filed claims for compensation from the $10 million fund established by the state in 2013.
And of those who filed, only 220 have been approved for compensation by the state Industrial Commission and received an initial payment of $20,000.
Some whose claims have been denied will receive no money because the victim died before an arbitrary cut-off date of June 30, 2013 set by lawmakers — even though the facts otherwise establish liability.
Others have been denied simply because their sterilization came at the hands of a county official following state policy and for whom the state eugenics board has no records.
Attorneys from the UNC Center for Civil Rights, who have been helping victims navigate the claims process, are now asking state legislative leaders to clarify and amend the law so that these victims — whose claims are otherwise substantiated — get the compensation they deserve.
“There is no question that eugenics victims excluded from compensation by these existing provisions of the compensation statute were sterilized by state actors against their will, and therefore are plainly part of the class that the statute was designed to reach,” Center Director Theodore Shaw and Senior Staff Attorney Elizabeth Haddix said in a letter sent to Senate President Phil Berger and House Speaker Tim Moore yesterday.
“Even as they cost the state nothing, these legislative fixes will restore the public’s confidence in the sincerity of the program, and allow compensation for more victims of one of the most aggressive and longest-running government involuntary sterilization programs in history.”
According to the Charlotte Observer, several lawmakers have voiced their support for amending the law to reach as many victims as possible.
“The encouraging part of this is that it looks like any solution would not require an increase in the amount for the eugenics fund,” Sen. Jeff Jackson, a Charlotte Democrat, told the paper in December. “So it’s not going to cost the taxpayers an extra penny to solve this problem.”
Former Sen. Thom Goolsby, a Wilmington Republican who pushed for compensation while in the legislature, said he’ll urge his former colleagues to make it apply to all victims.
Concerning the distinction between victims with records at the state board and those sterilized at a county’s behest, Goolsby said: “I don’t think anybody was really aware that there were both county and state boards of eugenics.”
Gerry Cohen, a former legislative attorney and head bill drafter, agreed.
“I don’t think there was any knowledge that county health departments were sterilizing people completely independent of the state. The discussions that I heard all revolved around the state program.”
Read more about the state’s eugenics victims’ compensation program here.