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Eugenics damages yet to be paid out

[North Carolina]

by James RomoserWinston-Salem Journal
December 26th, 2009

State money that was allocated during the summer for the benefit of sterilization victims still has not been spent, and no substantive progress has been made on a special foundation that is supposed to be established.

The General Assembly included $250,000 in the 2009-10 state budget to set up the foundation, which eventually could be used to pay financial reparations to surviving victims of a state-sponsored eugenics program that lasted from 1929 into the 1970s.

It's a small amount of money but a historically significant act -- it was the first time that the legislature took a formal step toward reparations for sterilization victims. Two of the state's biggest advocates for such reparations are state Reps. Larry Womble and Earline Parmon, Democrats from Winston-Salem.

Although the legislature authorized the money, it is now midway through the budget year and nothing of substance has been done.

"There's not an office. There's not a hiring. It's all still in progress," said Jill Lucas, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Department of Administration, where the foundation will be housed.

The first step, yet to be taken, is for the department to hire a staff person to set up the foundation. Officials are still writing the job description for that staffer and do not yet know what the person's salary will be, Lucas said.

Lucas said that it takes time to develop an entirely new entity of state government.

"They're not going to just put up a sign and open the door without knowing exactly how things are going to operate," she said.

Indeed, operating any sort of extensive program to pay reparations to sterilization victims will be difficult -- both logistically and financially.

More than 7,600 people were medically sterilized over the course of the eugenics program, usually because they were deemed to be mentally disabled or sexually promiscuous. The state has estimated that about 2,800 victims are still alive, but it would be difficult to track them all down.

Womble has called for giving each living victim a reparation of $20,000 at a potential cost to the state of $56 million.

Before any reparations can made, the state will have to establish the foundation. Parmon said she hopes that officials will get moving.

"I would have hoped that we would have known more about where we are in the process to get the foundation set up," Parmon said. "The money certainly was allocated."

Money that is allocated in an annual state budget is supposed to be spent within the budget year. This year's budget was passed more than a month late, at the beginning of August. The budget year ends on June 30.

The small amount of money for the foundation was one of few items in the budget that contained any new spending. Because of the bad economy, most areas of state government received spending cuts.

Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat, promised during her campaign to provide reparations for sterilization victims.

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