LANSING, Mich. – Eligibility for a Michigan fund that reimburses crime victims and their survivors for health care costs and funeral expenses would be expanded under a bill passed Wednesday by the Legislature.
Michigan has the lowest application rate nationally for accessing victim compensation funds and in 2018 about a third of applications were denied in the state, according to data from the Alliance for Safety and Justice, a nonprofit organization that works to support crime victims and reduce incarcerations.
Current law allows funding eligibility for victims, a person who was harmed intervening on behalf of a victim and certain family members or representatives affiliated with a victim.
The new legislation refines the language of who can apply and would allow reimbursement for primary caregivers of victims. Those who a crime victim was a guardian or primary caregiver of also would be eligible. Others would include roommates and those the victim was frequently dating.
The current law requires claimants to file for reimbursement within one year of the crime. The claimant is not eligible if the crime was not reported to law enforcement within 48 hours. Critics of the restrictions argue that the financial implications of holding a funeral for a loved one, seeking psychological help and recouping from time lost from work after victimization are not always at the forefront of peoples' minds when healing.
Under the legislation passed Wednesday with bipartisan support, the 48 hour rule would be removed and victims would have five years to file. The bill now goes to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
Victims of criminal sexual conduct under the age of 18 must file a claim by their 19th birthday to be eligible for reimbursement under the current law. The legislation would bump up the age to 28 if a claimant has cause for the delay.
The cap on the total amount each claimant could receive would be increased to $45,000, up from $25,000, and applications for reimbursement for funeral expenses would increase to $8,000, from $5,000.
The legislation will bring support to those in the state that need it most, bill sponsor Rep. Bronna Kahle said in a news release.
“Michigan crime survivors stood up as one and demanded change. Today’s victory was made possible because of their courage and persistence,” the Adrian Republican said. “With these reforms, we are proving to the nation that Michigan can adopt proven solutions to stop cycles of victimization."
Anna Liz Nichols is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Nichols reported from Lansing.