The N.C. General Assembly passed a bill in June 2012 outlining a $10 million total compensation package for victims of sterilization by the state from 1929 to 1974. North Carolina is the first of 32 states that had similar programs to extend compensation rights to victims.
“Today is a day of reconciliation and healing,” said Gov. Pat McCrory in a statement. “Signing the legislation to make these payments possible was among the most gratifying actions I have taken as a governor.”
Elaine Riddick, unknowingly sterilized in North Carolina at age 14 and now executive director of the Rebecca Project for Justice, a national advocate for women’s health and safety, said she was pleased the state has taken action.
“I am honestly very proud,” she said. “I think that (compensation) was something that would have had to be done, and I’m proud of North Carolina for stepping up to the plate.”
Graham Wilson, spokesman for the N.C. Department of Commerce, said in an email that the Office for Justice of Sterilization Victims accepted 220 of the 786 claim forms, and all eligible claimants received a partial payment of $20,000 on Monday.
Chris Mears, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Administration, said the low percentage of victims compensated is misleading because private or county sterilization procedures are not eligible for state compensation.
“Every person that has submitted a claim that is part of the state (sterilization) program is being compensated,” he said.
Elizabeth Haddix, senior staff attorney at the UNC School of Law Center for Civil Rights, said the center objects to the requirement that a victim be alive on June 30, 2013, to receive compensation.
“There is no legitimate state interest served by treating the heirs of victims who died on June 29, 2013, differently from heirs of victims who died on July 1, 2013,” she said.
Anna Krome-Lukens, a UNC history and public policy lecturer, said the state did not go far enough.
“If the state wants to put any real commitment behind what they’re doing, they need to put a little more money where their mouth is,” Krome-Lukens said. “The state also needs to be more proactive in finding and seeking out people who were sterilized.”
Mears said the state reached out to victims efficiently through the Department of Motor Vehicles and more than 1,500 pieces of mail.
“There is no way without millions of dollars of staff and resources that we’d be able to track down all of these victims,” he said.
The N.C. State Center for Health Statistics estimated 2,944 victims were alive as of 2010.
Demetrius Worley Berry, attorney and member of the Governor’s Eugenics Compensation Task Force, said the time frame was fair.
“If you look at the law that was ultimately implemented, it was very much along the lines of what was recommended by the task force.”
The claim deadline was expedited, Mears said, to be able to pay victims sooner.
“The reason why it was moved up was because identified victims — they are dying,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is get this money out to compensate, to right a wrong.”