TAR HEEL VIEW: Victims of state sterilization must get payment

A ruling from the N.C. Supreme Court last week means that victims of the state’s forced sterilization program who have been waiting for more than a year for their last compensation payment could have to wait a lot longer. We urge Gov. Roy Cooper and the state legislature to get that final payment issued now.

These victims of the program that ran from 1929 through 1974, most of them of modest means and many of them haunted by physical and mental ills from their operations, have done all the state asked them to do in filling out paperwork for compensation since the state approved it in the summer of 2013. They’ve received two payments, but a third, which should bring their total compensation to more than $45,000, has been delayed as a few heirs of those denied compensation because they didn’t meet a deadline have appealed.

That’s certainly their right, and they have valid claims that bear thorough review. But in the meantime, the state must make the final payment to the victims who have qualified and have already been waiting too long. This despite the fact that, almost four years ago, the state approved a $10-million compensation pool for qualified victims to share in equally. More than 200 victims have qualified.

The heirs of those denied have appealed their cases through the state Industrial Commission, the N.C. Court of Appeals and the state Supreme Court. Now the state’s highest court has kicked the matter back to the court of appeals, which had said that a panel of Superior Court judges should decide the matter.

This could take many more months.

In the meantime, qualified victims who have done everything right in this process keep waiting. Many are elderly. Some died waiting for compensation to be approved. When the state sterilized them, saying they were mentally or physically unfit to reproduce (often on flimsy evidence), it moved quickly. But now the state is moving far too slowly to compensate them.

This idea of compensation was one thing our state government got right in the last several years. We are the first in the nation to compensate victims of a state sterilization program. Virginia became the second a couple of years ago, and more states are likely to follow.

We should set a model for doing this right, instead of adding insult to injury by making victims wait. And wait. And wait. Aggravating the problem is the fact that the state has done little to update the victims on the delay.

We urge the governor and the legislature to act now and get the final payment out to qualified victims. If that means more compensation money must be allocated for appellants who prevail, an amount equal to whatever final amount the qualified victims receive, so be it. But in the spirit of righteousness and decency, the qualified victims must be compensated now.

The Winston-Salem Journal