WASHINGTON, D.C. President Barack Obama has a bill on his desk championed by Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.). Tillis’ bill on compensation of eugenics victims passed the U.S. House Tuesday after unanimously passing the Senate earlier this year.Tillis authored and introduced the measure into the Senate, which would ensure that eugenic victims in North Carolina will not have their federal safety net benefits reduced or eliminated as a result of their compensation payments. The legislation was co-sponsored by Sens. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Tom Carper (D-Del.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.).”For the victims who are on public assistance, they would’ve been told that they no longer qualify for the benefits they were receiving until they spent down that compensation,” said Tillis. “To me, it would’ve have been a second victimization.”Tillis credits N.C. Rep. Larry Womble (D-Forsyth) for keeping the fight for eugenics victims at the forefront in a time when few knew of this dark part of the nation’s history.More than 60,000 Americans in 33 states were sterilized as part of state-run eugenics and compulsory sterilization programs the 1920s to the early 1970s. State government programs targeted specific groups for sterilization, including unmarried women, African-Americans and children from poor families, often sterilizing them without their consent or knowledge. Many of the programs were discontinued after World War II, but they continued in 11 other states including California and North Carolina.Tillis was shocked when he learned of the program while serving as speaker of the N.C. House, but said he was further surprised to find that many other lawmakers, even at the federal level, didn’t know about it either. The first hurdle was education, then arguing that restitution was a moral obligation, even decades later.”As conservatives we talk about government takings, but there is no more egregious taking than that by eugenics programs,” he added. “We knew there were politics involved and policy complexities that needed to be dealt with, but we needed to right this thing while the victims are still among us.”In 2013, North Carolina became the first state in the nation to pass legislation to create a state fund to compensate the living victims of the state-run forced sterilization program. In 2014, more than 200 North Carolina victims were awarded their first compensation payment of approximately $20,000 each. In 2015, victims began receiving their second eugenics compensation payments of an additional $15,000.Tillis’ legislation is currently waiting for Obama’s signature. It will exclude victims’ payments from being used in determining eligibility for federal public benefits such as Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (known as SNAP or food stamps}, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and disability assistance.
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