State compensation program aids crime victims

When Darryl Walker was killed in March, his mother said had she known about the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Act she would not have cremated her son. “I didn’t know the state offered burial assistance to poor families and no one at the f

When Darryl Walker was killed in March, his mother said had she known about the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Act, she would not have cremated her son.

“I didn’t know the state offered burial assistance to poor families, and no one at the funeral home told (me) about it either,” said Yvette Aikins, 67, Walker’s mother. “Everybody was telling me to cremate him because it’s cheaper than a funeral and because he did not have any life insurance. I had no choice.”

Aikins is one of many cash-strapped families in Illinois who struggle to bury a loved one who did not have life insurance. But Secretary of State Jesse White, whose office manages the program, said that’s why the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Act is available.

“Since 1973, the state has helped crime victims and their families pay for medical, burial and other expenses covered under Crime Victim Compensation Act,” White said.

The Compensation Act allows violent crime victims of all ages who have little or no life or medical insurance coverage to seek up to $27,000 from the state to help pay for an array of expenses. The state will pay up to $5,000 for funeral expenses.

But the program is not just for those who are killed.

It also provides monetary support to victims of crime as long as the victim did not contribute to their injury or death, said Matthew Finnell, court administrator for the Illinois Court of Claims, that distributes the funds.

The program will also pay up to $1,000 a month for medical and rehabilitation expenses and lost wages.

If a person is injured or killed as a result of trying to commit a crime, they are not eligible to be compensated by the program. But if they were not committing a crime, incarcerated or on parole or probation at the time of their injury or death, they would be eligible.

Victims of rape, domestic violence, arson, drunk driving, stalking, and child exploitation are also eligible for compensation.

In 2007, the Court of Claims paid $27 million to victims. The program is funded with federal grants and by Illinois taxpayers, said Elizabeth Kaufman, a spokeswoman for the Secretary of State’s office.

Out of 6,539 applications submitted to the program from July 2007 to June of this year, 2,961 were for Black victims of crime and 2,062 of those were for Black males, she explained.

However, ethnicity identification on the application is optional so there could have been more Blacks who actually applied.

Before money is distributed, the state investigates each request to make sure the victim did not contribute to their death. Payments are sent to either the family or vendors who rendered services such as funeral homes.

It could take up to eight weeks to process an application and reimbursement is often slow, something funeral home owners dislike.

“It sometimes takes as long as a year to get reimbursed from the state for funeral services already rendered to families,” said Edward Calahan, founder and president of Calahan Funeral Homes, 7030 S. Halsted St. “So as a result, a lot of funeral homes do not like to participate in the program–although we do.”

He said 375 families a year use his funeral home, and lately a lot of them have come to his business with no life insurance.

“These are tough, economic times and I am seeing more and more families come to us for services but do not have insurance to pay for it.”

When families do not have life insurance, Calahan said he encourages them to apply for assistance with the state.

“Sometimes they don’t even know there is assistance available from the state,” Calahan said. “That’s why we hold community workshops to educate families about the importance of having life insurance.”

But other funeral homes will have the families pay up front and wait for reimbursement from the state.

“We do about 520 funerals a year here. Most of the families who come to us already know about the program and often ask us to assist them in applying,” said DuShawn Smith, a director at the Corbin Colonial Funeral Chapel LLC, 5345 W. Madison St. “I know it may seem extreme to ask poor families with no insurance to pay for funeral services upfront, but we have a business to run and unfortunately we cannot provide credit to everyone.”

For more information about the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Act or to apply, call the Secretary of State Office at (312) 814-5010. Or download an application at www.cyberdriveillinois.com/departments/court_of_claims/crime_victims.html.

Wendell Hutson can be reached at whutson@chicagodefender.com.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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