Dec 22 2016

In the Senate, Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC) has continued to work to bring justice to the victims of North Carolina’s state-run eugenics and sterilization program. Senator Tillis has also attempted to raise the public’s awareness of a dark and shameful chapter in America’s history, calling on other states to join North Carolina in creating their own compensation programs for living eugenics victims. 
In the General Assembly, Tillis worked across the aisle to compensate the victims of North Carolina’s state-run eugenics program.
From the 1920s to the 1970s, more than 60,000 Americans in 33 states were sterilized. North Carolina had one of the most aggressive eugenics programs in the nation, sterilizing more than 7,600 North Carolinians against their will. The state government targeted specific groups for sterilization, including unmarried women, African-Americans, and children from poor families.
When Tillis was a member of the N.C. House, he joined then-state Rep. Larry Womble in a bipartisan effort to compensate the living victims of the state’s eugenics programs. They ran into political opposition from the beginning, first blocked by a Democratic governor and legislature, and then meeting resistance from some of Tillis’ fellow Republicans when he became speaker.
In 2013, they worked out a hard-fought bipartisan compromise that made North Carolina the first state in the nation to create a compensation fund for the living victims of its state-run eugenics program.
In the Senate, Tillis quickly introduced legislation to close a loophole that could have financially harmed eugenics survivors receiving compensation payments.
Senator Tillis noticed an unintended problem with federal law that could affect eugenics victims receiving compensation payments. Since the federal government counted the compensation as “income,” it jeopardized the victims’ eligibility for federal safety net benefits like Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, and others. This meant that the victims—many of whom already have only the modest of means—could have had their federal benefits reduced, or eliminated altogether.
Senator Tillis introduced The Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act to fix the problem. The legislation passed the Senate and House unanimously, and was signed into law by President Obama in October 2016.
Editorial: “The bill is fair, sensible and necessary. Without this protection, a $20,000 payment from the state could be used to deny food stamps, disability or other benefits.” (Editorial, Greensboro News & Record, 7/3/15)
Editorial: “‘Bipartisan’ is all but a lost concept these days in Washington. So we applaud a current bipartisan effort that is for the best of causes. Republican Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina joined forces with Democratic Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware to author a bill to protect sterilization victims receiving compensation payments from cutbacks in federal benefits because of those payments…. This protection is needed. North Carolina, the first state in the union to pay such compensation, has been followed by Virginia. We foresee a domino effect spreading to other states that had such programs. The Journal editorial board long fought for that compensation here, compensation Tillis and Democrat Larry Womble of Winston-Salem secured as a major part of their service in the state House.” (Editorial, Winston-Salem Journal, 10/4/16)
Tillis: “I am encouraged to see such broad, bipartisan support among my colleagues to help ensure living eugenics victims receive their full compensation payments and federal benefits. I also hope this legislation will raise awareness across the nation over the fact that these deplorable government-sanctioned programs existed in the first place. The stories of the terrible transgressions made against innocent Americans like Willis Lynch deserve to be heard and never forgotten.” (Thom Tillis op-ed, USA Today, 9/9/15)