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Payouts to NC eugenics victims could be modest

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A proposed budget agreement sets aside $10 million for one-time payments to North Carolina's forced sterilization victims. A proposed budget agreement sets aside $10 million for one-time payments to North Carolina's forced sterilization victims.
RALEIGH, N.C. -

A proposed budget agreement sets aside $10 million for one-time payments to North Carolina's forced sterilization victims, but the final amount paid to each individual will depend on how many come forward.

Under the terms of the $20.6 billion compromise budget unveiled by the Republican legislative majority on Sunday, each verified victim of the state-sponsored eugenics program that ended in the 1970s will split an equal share of the $10 million.

North Carolina forcibly sterilized about 7,600 people whom the state deemed feeble-minded or otherwise undesirable between 1929 and 1974. Some of the victims were as young as 10 and chosen because they were promiscuous or did not get along with their schoolmates.

N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation, a group created by the state to study the issue, estimated last year that as many as 1,800 victims may still be alive. However, the only 168 living victims had then come forward to have their identities verified against state records.

The legislature has debated for years whether to compensate eugenics victims. A bill to pay each living victim $50,000 passed the state House last year with the support of then-Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue and Speaker Thom Tillis, but stalled in the Senate. Opponents questioned whether the plan could set a precedent for other groups to seek compensation, such as American Indians or the descendants of African slaves.

As lawmakers have debated the issue, hundreds of the aging victims are thought to have died.

Jordan Shaw, Tillis' spokesman, said Monday the $10 million in the budget was a compromise based on trying to pay each verified sterilization victim $50,000 while addressing concerns of some in the Senate that total costs could balloon if hundreds of additional victims come forward.

The $10 million in the current bill will cover payments of $50,000 each for 200 people. If 1,000 victims are eventually verified, however, the $10 million now on the table will cover payments of only $10,000 each.

Former Rep. Larry Womble, a Winston-Salem Democrat who helped lead the fight to compensate the victims, said Monday that regardless of the final amount paid to each survivor, the state is making an important statement. North Carolina is set to become the first state to pay compensation to the victims of a government-run sterilization program.

"There really is no amount of money that can make them whole again," Womble said.

While many states had similar eugenics programs, most of them were abandoned after the practice was associated with the Nazis after World War II. But North Carolina actually expanded its program after the war.

The budget bill covers all victims still living as of June 30. Payments will be issued in 2015 to all verified through state records, or their survivors.

Though the bill specifies the names of those compensated be kept confidential, Womble said he doubts there will be a rush of hundreds of victims coming forward to seek payment.

"It all depends on who steps forward, because many still don't want it to be known that this was done to them," he said.

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