President Barack Obama signed into law Friday a Senate bill that protects sterilization victims receiving compensation payments from cutbacks in federal benefits because of those payments.
The legislation was co-authored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., and Tom Carper, D-Del.
The bill was signed into law — along with 13 other House and Senate bills — without comment from the president.
The Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act covers federal safety net programs, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance (food stamp) program, Supplemental Security Income and SSI-Disabled.
“Without this legislation, eugenics victims who receive compensation payments could see their federal benefits reduced or even have their eligibility eliminated,” the senators said in a statement.
The bill, Senate 1698, was cosponsored by Sens. Richard Burr, R-N.C., Mark Warner, D-Va., and Tim Kaine, D-Va., the Democratic candidate for vice president.
Tillis has said he chose to co-author the bill as a continuation of his work as N.C. House speaker in addressing North Carolina’s dark history of supporting a state-run eugenics and compulsory sterilization law that victimized more than 7,600 men, women and children from 1929 through 1974.
Eugenics was more than just a North Carolina issue. There were more than 60,000 documented victims in 33 states.
The individuals often were ruled mentally or physically unfit to reproduce, often on flimsy reasoning.
State governments targeted specific groups for sterilization, including unmarried women, African-Americans and children from poor families.
“The victims of North Carolina’s eugenics program have already endured so much throughout their lives, and this law will help protect them by ensuring their restitution payments will not negatively impact their eligibility for federal safety net benefits,” Tillis said.
“We are better as a people, a state and a nation for acknowledging the sins of the past and fighting for justice on behalf of the victims.”
The Winston-Salem Journal’s award-winning series on eugenics in 2012, titled “Against Their Will,” brought statewide awareness of the program.
In 2013, Tillis and N.C. Rep. Larry Womble, D-Forsyth, secured passage of a bill that made North Carolina the first state to pay compensation to eugenics victims.
More than 200 recipients are awaiting a third and final check that is expected to bring their total amount of compensation to just above $45,000.
Virginia became in 2105 the second state to pass legislation compensating the victims of a state-run eugenics program.
Virginia will award $25,000 to each individual who was involuntarily sterilized and still alive as of Feb. 1, 2015.