The third and final compensation payment to North Carolina eugenics victims is expected to be mailed soon, state administrative officials confirmed Wednesday.
The Winston-Salem Journal’s 2002 award-winning series about North Carolina’s eugenics endeavor, “Against Their Will,” brought awareness to the state’s program, which sterilized about 7,600 people before it ended in 1974.
The final payment represents the end of a 15-year pursuit for compensation for at least 213 victims considered as qualified by the N.C. Industrial Commission. They have received two partial payments — $20,000 in October 2014 and $15,000 in November 2015.
“We are in the process of verifying the current addresses of qualified claimants so that the final checks can be processed and distributed as soon as possible,” said Gena Renfrow, the communications director for the N.C. Administration Department.
“As soon as the final number of qualified claimants is determined, then checks will be cut and sent to claimants by registered mail,” Renfrow said.
“The final payment cannot be calculated until the final number of qualified claimants is determined,” she said.
The update comes nearly two months after the N.C. Court of Appeals disclosed that it had rejected the arguments made by five claimants pursuing eugenics compensation from the state.
The decisions helped clarify who is eligible — or not — for state compensation for forced sterilizations. They removed the final roadblock that certified sterilization victims faced in receiving their third payment.
For Willis Lynch, 84, of Warren County, the final payment “will be a relief to get” considering he often said North Carolina was waiting for him and other sterilization victims to die so it wouldn’t have to pay them compensation.
“But I’ll never be satisfied because of what happened to me,” Lynch said Wednesday. He said he was 14 years old when he was sterilized.
“I never knew for sure why they did what they did to me. I guess they thought I was mean and they didn’t want more of my stock running around,” he said. “I love kids, and no compensation can make up for not being allowed to have kids of my own.”
In June, some relatives of eugenics victims opted not to appeal to the N.C. Supreme Court a ruling that denies some of them the ability to inherit payments.
A panel of three appellate-court judges ruled on June 6 that eugenics victims requesting compensation from the state had to be alive on June 30, 2013, for their heirs to qualify for payment after a relative’s death.
The panel unanimously upheld the denials by the state industrial commission related to compensation established by the Republican-controlled General Assembly in 2013.
The June 30, 2013, date was set in the law, which created a $10 million pool for compensation payments.
Victims who were determined to be qualified for compensation before that date would have their compensation rights passed on to heirs.
Qualified victims were required to submit compensation forms to the commission by June 30, 2014, and 780 of a potential 2,000 living victims did.
The panel lists 250 claims as having been approved by the commission, with a “handful” awaiting final resolution on appeal.
Having a claim approved doesn’t necessarily mean that a victim has been certified for compensation.
At that rate, the compensation per approved claim would be in the $40,000 range, about $10,000 short of the recommended goal in the initial eugenics compensation legislation.
“There is nothing in the preamble indicating that the General Assembly intended to compensate the heirs of individuals who had been sterilized under the authority of the eugenics board,” according to the appellate panel’s ruling.
In 2002, Gov. Mike Easley apologized for the forced sterilizations, but it took about another 10 years for legislators to set up the compensation program.
In October 2016, then-President Barack Obama signed a law preventing any such compensation to be used to deny need-based assistance to the victims.
The bipartisan legislation was introduced by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., who led the North Carolina compensation program while state House speaker.