Survivors, loved ones call on Hochul to sign Fair Access to Victim Compensation Act

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Victims and survivors of crimes are eligible to receive funding through New York State under specific guidelines. Activists are now calling for those guidelines to be expanded, leading to easier access to funding.

Right now, people can access money through the Office of Victim Services (OVS) to pay for things like medical bills, burial cost and crime scene clean up. But in order to get the money, they must report their incident to police within a week of it happening, and file their claim with OVS within a year.

Erie County Legislator Howard Johnson was shot in 2008. He said the week that followed his injury was difficult, made worse by being overwhelmed with the OVS process.

“Being in the hospital and the amount of paperwork that you had to fill out, and the amount of police you had to talk to, and to have things to be itemized – it was just nonstop,” he said.

The Fair Access to Victim Compensation Act would introduce two other ways victims or survivors can show they were affected by a crime: allowing a statement from a certified victim service provider like BestSelf Behavioral Health, or by an order of protection from court.

It would also give people a “reasonable amount of time” to report the crime to authorities, rather than a week, and extend the OVS claim filing deadline from one year to three years.

Wednesday, nonprofit group Common Justice held a joint day of action, advocating for this bill to be passed by holding rallies in Buffalo and New York City. Organizers said they planned this after Gov. Kathy Hochul launched a statewide campaign to raise awareness about victim compensation, but “the legislation that would expand access for underserved and vulnerable New Yorkers remains unsigned, awaiting one stroke of [Hochul’s] pen to become law.”

“There’s an awareness issue, but there’s also the barrier issue where folks are funneled to go through law enforcement to seek compensation eligibility,” said Tanvier Peart, Director of Policy with Common Justice. “If we still have the barriers in place, then what good is the public knowing about it if they can’t access it?”

The bill received bipartisan support, and passed in both the NYS Senate and Assembly. It’s now sitting on Hochul’s desk awaiting signature.

News 4 reached out to the governor’s office for comment. In a statement, a spokesperson told us “we will review the legislation.”

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