First Federal Bill to Acknowledge US Eugenics Would Help Victims of State Sterilization Programs
A bipartisan bill introduced in the Senate on June 25 would give a financial break to people in North Carolina and Virginia who were sterilized under those state’s official eugenics programs, and who are now hoping to receive compensatory payments that have been established by their state legislatures. If passed, it would be the first federal legislation to recognize the history of sterilization abuse that took place during the twentieth century in the name of eugenics.
Senate Bill 1698 would exclude payments from current or future state eugenics compensation programs from consideration in determining eligibility for Federal benefits including Medicaid, Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, Supplemental Security Income, and Social Security Disability Insurance. It was introduced by Senator Thom Tillis (R-NC), who was joined by Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Tom Carper (D-DE), and Richard Burr (R-NC). On July 8, Congressman Patrick McHenry (R, NC-10) and Congressman G. K. Butterfield (D, NC-01) introduced companion bill H.R. 2949, the “Treatment of Certain Payments in Eugenics Compensation Act,” in the House of Representatives.
Between 1907 and 1977, 33 states passed laws authorizing eugenic sterilization of various categories of people (including “criminals,” the “mentally ill,” and the “feeble minded”). Populations most often targeted by the eugenics programs were unmarried women, African-Americans, and poor children.
Only two states have issued plans for reparation through monetary compensation. North Carolina became the first to enact legislation to compensate living victims of forced sterilization laws in 2013, setting aside a $10 million compensation fund. Following North Carolina’s example, Virginia passed similar legislation in 2015. While North Carolina identified 220 living sterilization survivors; Virginia has identified only twelve so far. Virginia will award $25,000 to each involuntarily sterilized person who was alive as of February 1, 2015.
Unfortunately, many North Carolinians and Virginians who were sterilized against their will do not qualify for reparations, and thus would receive no benefits from the newly introduced federal legislation. The states’ current compensation laws say that to be eligible for compensation, the sterilization operation must have occurred under the state's Eugenics Board. However, judges, local health officials, and social service workers were also permitting and arranging sterilizations, as in the case of Debra Blackmon.
In a short video about the bill, Senator Tillis encourages “other states to follow North Carolina’s lead, as Virginia has recently done, to right this wrong in our nation’s history.”
Previously on Biopolitical Times:
- No Más Bebés: A Documentary on the Sterilizations of Latina Mothers at an LA County Hospital
- The Scope of Eugenics: A Workshop
- Why We Should Teach the History of Eugenics
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