RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — Another set of payments to compensate those sterilized under North Carolina’s defunct eugenics program will go out within weeks, welcome news to aging victims worried about taking care of themselves and loved ones.
The state budget signed by Gov. Pat McCrory this month tells the state to give by Nov. 1 another $15,000 to each person already determined as eligible by the North Carolina Industrial Commission, even as a few applicant appeals continue.
Last fall, the state paid $20,000 on each of the 220 qualifying claims from a $10 million reserve the Legislature created in 2013. North Carolina was the first state to pay compensation to victims of a government-run sterilization program.
“It’s important that the people get the money. They’ve waited for it for many, many, many, many, many years,” said Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, the author of the provision inserted in the House budget and survived negotiations. “They’ve already qualified, so why should it just sit in a bank account until we know exactly how much they’re entitled to?”
Elnora Mills, 64, of Brunswick County, a qualifying recipient who was sterilized as a teenager, said the moneywill help reduce worries about medical bills for herself and her husband. Mills said she’s undergone cancer treatment and her husband has health problems, too. But the money doesn’t change what happened to her.
“I’ve been aggravated this many years about it and everything,” Mills said in an interview. “I would still never forgive the state for what they did to me.”
The original compensation law says the state would compensate victims defined as those living as of June 30, 2013 and who were involuntarily sterilized under the authority of the former state Eugenics Board.
Between 1929 and 1974, North Carolina sterilized about 7,600 people whom the state deemed as feeble-minded or otherwise undesirable. Some were children considered promiscuous or troublemakers, while others were adults deemed incompetent. Most of the people who were sterilized were either forced or coerced into the procedure. A small number chose to be sterilized.
Then-Gov. Mike Easley apologized for the sterilizations in 2002. It took another decade for enough political support to build for financial compensation.
The original compensation law directed an application process and all payments were to be made by this past June 30. The schedule was changed last year to order the initial payments, with a second payment coming at the end of all appeals.
With appeals still pending, it’s been altered again. Thirteen claims remain in the appeals process at the state Court of Appeals, according the Department of Commerce, which oversees the Industrial Commission.
Once appeals are exhausted, the remainder of the fund — expected to remain above $2 million — will bedistributed proportionately.
Barely a quarter of the nearly 800 people who filed claim forms were approved for compensation. Many denials occurred due to missing paperwork or the finding that the sterilization was ordered by a county agency, not the state Eugenics Board.
More denied applicants should be compensated based on a broader view of the law, said Elizabeth Haddix, senior staff attorney at the UNC Center for Civil Rights in Chapel Hill, whose group has worked with somevictims. The state policy was the basis on which counties eliminated the ability of men and women to have children, she said.
Whether by the state or the county, Haddix said, the victims were “sterilized under the eugenics policy.”
Stam said last week he would consider legislation next year to allow counties to offer similar compensation as the state. He’s not convinced the number of additional qualifying victims would be that large, so finding additional state money is possible. Stam said he doesn’t want to siphon money from the reserve for current beneficiaries.