Across the country, violent crime victims are using their stories to push for changes to state compensation programs meant to help them with medical bills, relocation, funerals or other expenses.
Vanessa Martinez, who survived a gunshot wound to the head, has turned to speaking at rallies supporting legislation to fund a pilot trauma-recovery center in Arizona that would lead to more people getting help. Dion Green, whose father was killed in a mass shooting at an Ohio bar, testified in Ohio and served on a committee giving input on changes to federal victim compensation guidelines, pushing for removing existing barriers. Bernice “Tammi” Ringo, whose son died of gunshot wounds in 2019, testified before lawmakers in Michigan, which subsequently passed legislation that boosts money available to victims, eliminates police reporting deadlines and makes other changes.
Their advocacy has spurred numerous changes in recent years when dozens of states passed bills changing their compensation programs: increasing how much money is awarded, lengthening deadlines and expanding eligibility, among other changes.
As part of a series examining crime victim compensation programs, The Associated Press found racial inequities and other barriers in how many states deny claims.
Here is a look at key takeaways from the second installment in that series.
STATES ARE CHANGING COMPENSATION
Legislatures in more than half of U.S. states have passed measures to improve their programs in recent years.
The changes vary widely: A victim’s criminal history is no longer an automatic disqualifier in Illinois. The time limit to apply for help was increased from three to seven years in California. In Michigan, the cap on aid will nearly double to $45,000 this year and more people like caretakers of crime victims will be eligible for survivor benefits.
States have also cut back on denials to families based on the behavior of homicide victims and loosened requirements that crime victims must have cooperated with or reported the crime to police.
FEDERAL GUIDELINES GET AN UPDATE
The Justice Department's U.S. Office for Victims of Crime gives state programs matching dollars that are tied to some regulations and a set of suggested guidelines.
The office is in the process of overhauling compensation guidelines for the first time since 2001, with an “emphasis on equity and addressing programmatic barriers,” according to an emailed statement from the department.
It’s unclear how much of that new guidance will be mandatory.
SIGNS OF CHANGE
In a majority of the 23 states that were willing to share detailed racial data with the AP, Black applicants saw disproportionately high denial rates. In some states, Black applicants were nearly twice as likely as white applicants to be denied.
While data are not available for the handful of states that passed recent sweeping reforms, New Jersey overhauled its program rules in 2020 and saw an immediate change.
In 2018 and 2019, Black victims accounted for about 44% of applications but received nearly 60% of the denials, according to data obtained by the AP. After the overhaul, that disparity dwindled.
By 2021 it had disappeared.
Catalini reported from Trenton, New Jersey and Lauer reported from Philadelphia.
The Associated Press receives support from the Public Welfare Foundation for reporting focused on criminal justice. The AP is solely responsible for all content.