Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Tom Carper, D-Del., introduced a bill on Thursday that would help victims of forced sterilization in the 20th century.
Two states, North Carolina and Virginia, created funds to compensate victims of state-run eugenics programs. The proposed federal legislation would make sure that these state payments aren’t used to prevent people from losing eligibility for federal benefits such as welfare, food assistance and Medicaid.
“The implementation of state-run eugenics and sterilization programs represent a dark and shameful chapter in our nation’s history,” Tillis said in a press release. “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.”
Laws in 33 states led to the forced sterilization of more than 60,000 Americans, including more than 7,600 in North Carolina, which had one of the nation’s most aggressive programs.
A state law in 2013, with Tillis as a forceful champion when he was speaker of the state House, created a fund to compensate living victims of the eugenics program. As of January, 220 people have received $20,000 each.
If no other victims are identified by Tuesday, the deadline for filing claim forms, the remaining money in the fund will be awarded to them as well, bringing the total compensation to about $45,500 per person, Tillis’ office said.
Advocates for the state’s eugenics victims have said a loophole in the law made many people ineligible for payments. The law has been interpreted to apply only to people sterilized by state officials, and not by local health or welfare officials.
“This sickening time in North Carolina’s history may be over, but there are still individuals suffering the consequences of these terrible acts,” Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., said in a statement. “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.”