LITTLE ROCK – The Arkansas Crime Victims Reparations Board is one of the smallest and least known state agencies, but it helps thousands of people every year.
Last year the board awarded claims to 1,900 crime victims, 1,335 were victims of sexual assault and 565 were victims of other crimes.
When a crime victim applies for financial help, it takes about six months to grant an award. It didn't used to take as long, but the board's staff was reduced from seven to five a couple of years ago.
The investigator who verifies sexual assault claims has more than 1,200 pending applications pending. There are 335 claims pending from victims of other crimes, the board told legislators on the Joint Performance Review Committee.
Examples of payments made last year include help with funeral expenses for murder victims, help with medical expenses for women abused by their husbands and help with medical expenses for people injured in car wrecks caused by drunk drivers.
Help paying funeral expenses is the largest category of claims paid out by the board. Almost half of the payouts last year were for funeral expenses. The board can award up to $7,500 for funeral expenses.
Legislators questioned the second largest category, for forensic exams, which made up almost 36% of payouts, while agreeing that victims should not have to pay for forensic exams.
The exams are part of the evidence kit that has to be presented at criminal trials, and legislators questioned whether the payouts should be considered reparations to victims.
If other law enforcement agencies paid for the forensic exams, the board would have more funds to make true reparations to crime victims.
Other questions from lawmakers concerned mental health. The board pays up to $2,500 each for in-patient and out-patient counseling, but according to crime victims who spoke to the committee, the typical six-month delay in awarding claims can be too late for victims who need immediate mental health services.
The board also makes payments to victims who lose income because they cannot work. In homicide cases the board can help pay for cleaning up the crime scene. Also in homicide cases, the board can make payouts to dependents of murder victims for loss of financial support.
Claims are not awarded for attorneys' fees, pain and suffering or property damage.
The board is a payer of last resort, and is not a substitute for federally subsidized health programs like Medicaid or Medicare.
The total amount in claims paid last year was close to $1.6 million. Next year the board will have about $2.5 million to pay claims, because its members asked the legislature for a steady source of revenue and it receive $2.3 million in general revenue.
The board also gets revenue from court costs and restitution paid by convicted offenders, but those sources of money are not steady. Restitution usually brings in from $85,000 to $90,000 a year, and revenue from court costs have declined over the past several years.
The board gets federal grants, and the governor and the attorney general have allocated money from special funds.
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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Senate Health Committee.