Report: Ohio victims' fund denies thousands due to strict rules

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Thousands of crime victims applying for aid are being rejected due to the strict rules designating who funding should be directed toward in Ohio’s victim compensation program, an investigation found.

A Dayton Daily News investigation found the Ohio Victims Compensation Fund program, administered by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, has been paying out less each year going even as the number of claims spiked in recent years.

In one case, a teenager, 17, — who officials said was abducted and sexually assaulted — was denied compensation because drugs were found in her system. The girl’s family contended she was forced to take drugs by her captors.

The program’s rules automatically disqualify anyone with drugs in their system — even if the drugs had nothing to do with the crime at hand or were taken days prior.

The program also disqualifies people believed to have committed certain felony crimes in the previous 10 years, regardless of whether they were charged or acquitted.

Matthew Kanai, chief of the state attorney general’s crime victim’s service’s division, says his office has little discretion in awarding assistance based on the rules.

“If they’re eligible, it’s paid,” he said. “If they’re not eligible, it isn’t.”

Paula Humphrey, 70, was assaulted last year by a juvenile who broke into her home. She was initially denied compensation because she lacked the proper paperwork.

Humphrey said — though she filed an appeal and won — she didn’t expect it to be so difficult.

She ultimately received $408, which reimbursed her for her mileage to and from the hospital and covered deductibles. She was not compensated for the glasses she had to buy to replace the ones broken during the attack.

Victims are reimbursed for costs similar to aforementioned deductibles, but the program does not pay for pain and suffering.

The program also does not pay for lost property.

Kanai said judicial precedent typically guides the state in determining whether to disqualify someone, like being involved in an alleged drug deal before their deaths.

Despite this, many denial letters obtained by the Dayton Daily News often expressed regret that the state could not pay the claim.

“I don’t think any person with a heart would say people in these situations are not victims,” said Dan Tierney, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.

In 2016, $6.8 million in distributed aid was down from $7.4 million in 2015. The amount has steadily dropped since 2007, when over $14 million in payments were made statewide.

Last year, new and supplemental claims rose 20 percent while the number of claims that actually received payouts decreased from 2,948 to 2,893.

Kanai said his office doesn’t know why there has been a decline in approved payouts.

The program has been around for decades and is funded through driver’s license reinstatement fees and court costs paid by people accused of crimes.

Last year, the fund collected $16.6 million in revenue and ended the year with a balance of $17.3 million after paying out $6.8 million in victim compensation payments and spending $5.9 million on administrative costs, mostly for staff salaries.

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