Last night, the Senate unanimously passed The Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act, legislation introduced by Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Tom Carper (D-DE) that excludes payments from state eugenics compensation programs from consideration in determining federal benefits. Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Tim Kaine (D-VA), and Mark Warner (D-VA) are original co-sponsors of the legislation.
State-run eugenics and compulsory sterilization laws victimized more than 60,000 Americans in 33 states from the 1920s to the early 1970s. State governments often targeted specific groups for sterilization, including unmarried women, African-Americans, and children from poor families. Victims were often sterilized without their consent or knowledge.
In 2013, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to pass legislation to create a state fund to compensate the living victims of the state-run forced sterilization program. In 2014, more than 200 North Carolina victims were awarded their first compensation payment of approximately $20,000 each. Earlier this month, victims began receiving their second eugenics compensation payments, worth an additional $15,000.
Earlier this year, Virginia became the second state to pass legislation compensating the victims of a state-run eugenics program. Virginia will award $25,000 to each individual who was involuntarily sterilized and is still alive as of February 1, 2015.
The legislation will help assist living eugenics victims receiving compensation payments by excluding their payments from being used in determining eligibility for, or the amount of, federal public benefits such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, and SSI-Disabled. Without this legislation, many eugenics victims who receive compensation payments could see their federal benefits reduced or even have their eligibility eliminated.
“I am proud that the Senate was able to come together to unanimously pass legislation that ensures federal laws do not unintentionally punish victims who receive eugenics compensation by preventing them from receiving the federal benefits they are entitled to,” said Senator Tillis. “It is my hope this will further increase the public’s awareness of the horrors and injustices of state-run eugenics and sterilization programs and help persuade other states to follow the lead of North Carolina and create their own eugenics compensation programs. My friend, former state Rep. Larry Womble, deserves special recognition for leading the decades-long fight for the living victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program. Without him, the legislation that passed this week would not be possible.”
“People who’ve been subjected to horrifying sterilization practices as a result of misguided eugenics programs have already had to live with unfathomable loss and hardship,” said Senator Tom Carper. “These individuals shouldn’t be penalized for compensation funds that they have received for their suffering, especially because it can never repair the pain they’ve had to endure. I’m proud the Senate came together across party lines to approve this important effort to ensure that no person loses important federal benefits because they received this type of compensation.”
“The Senate took a step forward to ensure that Americans targeted by state eugenics programs during a dark period of American history will receive compensation for the misdeeds of the state and federal government,” said Senator Burr. “The victims of these eugenics and sterilization programs were often subjected to procedures without their knowledge or consent. This bipartisan legislation will provide assistance to those who suffered as a result of horrific decisions made by our government.”
“Largely unnoticed, forced sterilizations and state-run eugenics programs represent one of the darkest episodes of human rights violations and injustices of our country’s past,” said Senator Kaine. “Today, I am pleased to see the Senate take a major step to right this historical wrong by passing the bipartisan Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act. This bill excludes payments from state eugenics compensation programs from consideration in determining federal benefits. I’m glad that Virginia has begun the process of compensating victims, but there is still more we must do.”
“This shameful period in Virginia’s history is thankfully in the past, but there are still living victims who are suffering from its dark legacy,” said Senator Warner. “Receiving just compensation for this horrible injustice should not unintentionally prevent victims from receiving federal assistance they’re entitled to. I’m pleased that this bill has passed the Senate and encourage the House to right this wrong by doing the same.”