Money for eugenics victims part of state budget deal

Eugenics Board

(WINSTON-SALEM JOURNAL) — North Carolina House and Senate leaders have reached an agreement on a budget that includes $10 million to be divided among victims of the state’s eugenics programs, but those payments would not be made until 2015.

In the proposed $20.6 billion state budget to be voted on this week, confirmed sterilization victims would receive compensation in a lump sum paid on June 30, 2015.

“I’m just happy that the state of North Carolina stepped up and did what was right,” said Elaine Riddick, a sterilization victim.

From 1929 to 1974, the state forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people who were deemed to be mentally handicapped, promiscuous or unfit to have children. The program was the focus of a five-part Winston-Salem Journal series in 2002 titled “Against Their Will.”

Riddick will be in her 60s by the time the payments are made. Although she said she doesn’t mind waiting until then, Riddick noted that many of the victims are much older and have health issues.

“They need to pay these people as fast as they can,” she said.

State Sen. Earline Parmon, D-Forsyth, helped former state Rep. Larry Womble champion the cause for the past 10 years.

“It’s a victory for the victims of eugenics,” she said. “It’s the right thing for the state to do. It took us much too long to do it.”

She added that she wishes the compensation could start immediately since many victims have already died. While Parmon said she is happy that the proposed budget contains the compensation, she said she cannot vote for the budget because she believes other portions hurt students, teachers and the environment.

The $10 million set aside by the state would be divided evenly among the confirmed victims. For example, 200 victims would each receive $50,000; 500 victims would receive $20,000 apiece. Jordan Shaw, a spokesman for N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, said the payments would not be subject to state taxes.

A group set up to help the victims estimated last year that up to 1,800 victims are still alive, though the identities of only 168 have been verified so far with available records, according to The Associate Press.

Riddick said the news of the compensation program could not have come at a better time. She is trying to develop a youth program or a home for unwed mothers, and she plans to use the money for such projects.

Individuals must submit claims with appropriate documentation by June 30, 2014, to be considered for the compensation program as currently proposed. The N.C. Industrial Commission would determine the eligibility of claimants. If a qualified claimant dies while the claim is pending, the payment would be made to the claimant’s estate.

If someone’s claim is not approved, that person could submit additional documentation and request a hearing with the deputy commissioner appointed by the Commission. Appeals could continue to the Court of Appeals.

State Sen. Pete Brunstetter, R-Forsyth, said there are still a number of members of the Senate who are concerned about the precedent the compensation sets.

“But this was an initiative that was very important to the speaker and to the governor, and they very effectively negotiated it into the final package,” he said.

Brunstetter said he is glad that the program sets a finite period of time for the claims process.