Advocates say Illinois Victim Compensation Program is ‘Broken’

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Dameca Kirkwood

Dameca Kirkwood, mother of shooting victim Trevonte Kirkwood, speaks at an anti-gun violence rally in Bloomington, Illinois. Photo by David Proeber/The Pantagraph

The Illinois victim compensation program, which many states offer with their own unique terms, was designed to help survivors and victim’s families to cover necessities like medical costs, funeral costs and lost wages. Now, advocates and those who have experience dealing with the program say the victim fund is failing them — and awarding less money than ever, reports NBC 5 Chicago.

The program offers up to $27,000 to cover expenses for “qualified crime victims,” yet recent investigations have uncovered that the average reimbursement is only $4,000 — and some never get money at all. 

NBC 5 Investigators analyzed every claim over the past 10 years — over 42,000 claims — and discovered that the money the state has been awarding victims has dropped sharply over the past decade, from more than $12 million10 years ago to just over $4 million last year. 

Reporter Lakeidra Chavis of The Trace discovered the same news in her own research of reviewing 15,000 victim claims over a five-year period from 2015-2020. Chavis found that the bureaucracy is “difficult for victims to navigate” — resulting in many families not being awarded the money they deserve. 

“We found less than four in 10 of those 15,000 applicants received any type of financial reimbursement money,” Chavis told NBC 5

Take Isaiah “Zay” Manning, who was 20-years-old in 2018 leaving a corner store in his Chicago neighborhood when he got caught in the crossfire of a shooting. 

“It was like boom. I felt like, “Oh I got shot.’ I instantly felt the pain,” Manning told NBC 5.

Manning and his mother Natalie Manning spoke with reporters, and she shared when she got a call from the hospital telling her that her son was shot, the doctor told her that it wasn’t looking good.

Manning survived, but he says the incident aged him fast, forcing him to need a colostomy bag, re-learn how to walk, and undergo countless surgeries — so the bills and lost wages quickly amounted to nearly $100,000, the family told NBC 5.

However, when the family applied for eligible compensation, they did not provide the necessary paperwork within the 30-day time period to prove his claim because the pandemic hit. 

Natalie Manning said after applying, they heard from a representative one time, but never heard from them again. Now, with no aid from the victim compensation fund, the family has been forced to make ends meet on their own, with Manning saying that he lost everything.

Beyond many families not getting the money they’re eligible to receive, Chavis from The Trace uncovered in her investigation that researchers and advocates are unable to follow the money in the program and see where it’s going.

“We don’t know what happened to the rest of the money,” Chavis told NBC 5, noting that the program run by the state attorney’s office receives an average of $8.5 million a year. “

Victim Programs Continuously ‘Broken’

While Illinois’s crime victim compensation fund is the latest to be researched and scrutinized by experts and journalists alike, others are quick to note that programs to help crime victims have been “broken” for a long time. 

Earlier this year, the Associated Press detailed how the U Visa program, carved out for people without legal status who become victims of serious crimes, has left applicants waiting years for a decision — sometimes without permission to work or protection from deportation. 

The program was designed to encourage anyone in the U.S. staying here illegally to report crimes without the fear of being deported. Many applicants ended up being women and children who endured horrific abuse or trafficking. However, too few visas are granted, and many are stuck on a waiting lost of over 160,000 cases, The Crime Report detailed. 

Moreover, while in October of 2020, the Department of Justice awarded $1.8 Billion to crime victim aid programs as a result of federal funding from the Victims of Crime Act — the good news was shadowed by the fact that this was a drop from the $2.064 billion from the previous fiscal year.

The progress was also stunted by the fact that a month later, Congress cut crime victim aid funding to reallocate the money to track police misconduct, The Crime Report covered. 

Lastly, according to a new report published by the Nevada Law Journal, researchers found that considering many programs require victims to provide a police report, victims that were perpetrated by police often don’t qualify for aid as police often incorrectly identify a victim as a witness to an event.

Because of their “witness” status, they’ve inadvertently barred from aid due to a technicality that law enforcement categorizes events as a way to protect themselves from liability.

Overall, as the rules for applying and eligibility for crime victim compensation funds may change or become narrower over time, advocates recommend that when possible, the crime should be reported to law enforcement, and all parties should cooperate. 

Advocates also urge families to submit applications in a timely manner, and that many should expect compensation as a final resource, after other insurance options have been applied. 

Additional Reading: Are Victims of Police Shootings Entitled to Crime Victims’ Compensation?

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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