State Office of Victim Services to Assist Eligible Victims with Crime-Related Expenses at No Cost to Taxpayers.
New York, NY - February 19, 2019 - Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced legislation expanding assistance available for victims of hate crimes and certain other crimes often associated with domestic violence who were not physically injured during the crime is now effective. Signed by Governor Cuomo last summer and effective today, the new law allows these individuals to apply for reimbursement of shelter costs and crime scene cleanup expenses from the New York State Office of Victim Services.
"By providing greater protections for innocent victims of crime, we are ensuring individuals who have endured the pain and suffering of these horrific events receive the support they need to recover," Governor Cuomo said. "New York is proud to be one of the first states to provide compensation to crime victims, and the expansion of this law reaffirms the State's commitment to helping these individuals and their family members whose top priority should be healing, not navigating the financial burden of an act of crime against them."
"My mother dedicated her life to helping victims of domestic violence, and her work has inspired me during my time in public service," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "This new law will ensure that crime victims have access to essential resources to help them recover. New York is leading the way to protect the most vulnerable and strengthen our society."
Previously, victims who were not physically injured during the crime were only eligible for certain OVS benefits if the charges included criminal obstruction of breathing or blood circulation; certain menacing, harassment, aggravated harassment, criminal contempt and stalking offenses; and hate crimes. These individuals were eligible to seek compensation from the agency for a variety of crime-related expenses, such as bills related to counseling and moving expenses, but crime scene cleanup and shelter costs were not included. These expenses are now covered for such claims filed with OVS starting today. Non-physically injured victims of certain menacing, criminal mischief and robbery offenses are included as those eligible to receive reimbursement for loss of earnings and counseling expenses.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "OVS is committed to helping all innocent victims of crime, and that includes those who may have not sustained a physical injury. The emotional effects of a crime can be just as damaging to an individual. With the expansion of these benefits, victims of domestic violence and hate crimes will have access to assistance and support on their road to recovery. We thank the Governor for recognizing the importance of amending this law in an effort to help more victims of crime throughout the state."
Assembly Majority Leader Crystal People-Stokes said, "Now victims and survivors of heinous acts of domestic violence and hate crimes who don't bear the physical scars from their attacks will be eligible to receive much needed support to get their lives, homes, and families safe and secure. I applaud Governor Cuomo and the Office of Victims services for their commitment to providing what is right and just for all victims and survivors in New York State."
Senator Patrick Gallivan said, "Victims of domestic violence, hate crimes and other acts of violence deserve support in their ongoing recovery effort. By expanding this program through the Office of Victim Services, we can ensure that more innocent crime victims have the resources they need to recover from their ordeal. Widening the safety net will help residents across the state."
This legislation is the latest in a series of changes to state law and increased financial investment under Governor Cuomo's leadership designed to expand eligibility and improve access to assistance and services for crime victims. Other significant changes include the nearly $16 million in federal funding administered by the Office of Victim Services to expand access to civil legal assistance for victims of crime; $8.4 million in state and federal funding to improve and expand services for vulnerable adults at risk of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation; and $4.5 million to expand child advocacy centers and fund mobile centers to ensure child abuse victims have access to these services closer to home.
In addition, vulnerable elderly or disabled individuals incapable of caring for themselves who have lost up to $30,000 in savings because of a crime are eligible to seek OVS assistance. The change recognizes that many vulnerable elderly or disabled individuals fall victim to financial exploitation, as well as abuse, often by someone they know. Previously, the agency could only reimburse victims to this extent for loss of support or earnings. The age requirement established for vulnerable elderly under state law is at least 60 years old.
Furthermore, funeral home businesses that pay for burial costs on behalf of a family are eligible to then recover those expenses from the Office of Victim Services. Prior to this amendment, only an individual who paid or incurred burial expenses - a family member or a person who owned a funeral home - was eligible for reimbursement. This change modernized the law by acknowledging that funeral homes are now often associated with larger businesses operated by boards instead of individual owners. The Office of Victim Services can provide up to $6,000 for burial expenses.
All of these legislative changes come at no cost to taxpayers. Funding for crime victims' compensation and reimbursement, as well as the Office of Victim Services' day-to-day operations comes entirely from the fines, mandatory surcharges and crime victim assistance fees that certain offenders must pay following conviction in New York State or federal courts.
About the Office of Victim Services
OVS provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members who have been victimized through no fault of their own and have no other means of assistance. The agency compensates and reimburses eligible individuals and family members for medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, and loss or damage of essential personal property, in addition to other assistance.
In addition, the Office of Victim Services currently funds 222 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, such as counseling, crisis intervention, advocacy and legal assistance, across New York State. For more information about services offered by the agency, including eligibility guidelines, visit www.ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.