WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Tom Carper (D-DE) introduced “The Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act,” which would exclude 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.
American eugenics and compulsory sterilization laws were implemented by 33 states in the early 20th century, and led to the forced sterilization of more than 60,000 citizens, often without their knowledge. Unmarried women, African-Americans, and children from poor families were among the groups specifically targeted by certain state governments.
In 2013, North Carolina, which was considered to have had the most aggressive state-run eugenics program, 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. As of January 2015, 220 North Carolina victims have been awarded approximately $20,000 each. If no further living victims were identified by the end of June 2014, the remaining money in the state fund would be awarded pro-rata to the victims who have been identified, bringing the total compensation of the 220 victims to approximately $45,500 each.
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 introduced by Senators Tillis and Carper aims to further assist living victims receiving payments from any current or future state eugenics compensation program by excluding the compensation 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, SSI-Disabled, etc.
“The implementation of state-run eugenics and sterilization programs represent a dark and shameful chapter in our nation’s history,” said Senator Thom Tillis. “While North Carolina and Virginia have recently created state compensation programs to help victims recover from horrible wrongs that have been perpetrated against them in the past, federal laws can unintentionally punish victims who receive eugenics compensation by preventing them from receiving federal benefits. The bipartisan legislation introduced will ensure that will not happen. None of this would be possible without my friend and former colleague, state Rep. Larry Womble, who provided incredible leadership in the decades-long fight for justice for the living victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program.”
“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 to join Senator Tillis and a bipartisan group of our colleagues in this important effort to ensure that no person loses important federal benefits because they received this type of compensation.”
“This sickening time in North Carolina’s history may be over, but there are still individuals suffering the consequences of these terrible acts,” said Senator Richard Burr. “While North Carolina took action to acknowledge these sins, we know that survivors are still subject to unfair treatment brought on by no action of their own. Ensuring that these Americans remain eligible for federal benefits in addition to state compensation through this bipartisan compensation appears to be the least we can do.”
"In robbing individuals of their basic human rights and degrading entire communities, forced sterilizations and state-run eugenics programs represent one of the darkest episodes of our country’s past, and I am pleased that states like Virginia have begun to compensate victims of these crimes,” said Senator Tim Kaine. “I am proud to co-sponsor this legislation because victims of such atrocities deserve recompense without becoming ineligible for federal benefits. The federal government must do all that it can to aid efforts to correct injustices.”
“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 Mark Warner. “Receiving just compensation for this horrible injustice should not unintentionally prevent victims from receiving federal assistance they’re entitled to.”