Legislation extending the window for victims of violent crime to seek compensation from the state is near the finish line, pushing advocates to make a final call for its success, which they did Thursday during a vigil outside the Capitol.
The bills aim to break the cycle of trauma and victimization by providing residents five years to seek state assistance for the aftermath of a brutal crime, with resources available for mental health services to a victim and funeral services for a loved one. After passing in the House and situated for a final vote in the Senate, individuals hosted an emotional vigil.
During the vigil and advocacy event Thursday hosted by Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, attendees were welcome to make a moment of silence vibrate by calling out the names of loved ones.
Several artificial candles pulsated on the Capitol steps, honoring all survivors of gun violence, domestic violence, sexual violence, human trafficking, sexual exploitation and mothers who lost children to gun violence.
"I'm a victim of gun violence and like many of you, I never received any support or services to help me heal," said Aswad Thomas, vice president of the Alliance for Safety and Justice. "Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice was a movement because the voices of crime survivors and communities of color have been left forgotten and disregarded for decades. Our communities have been riddled by violence."
In 2009, after exiting a convenience store, Thomas was subjected to two near-fatal gunshots to his back after encountering two men intending to rob him. Although he lives in Georgia, he came to Michigan to urge the passage of
HB 4674 by Rep. Bronna Kahle (R-Adrian) and HB 4675 by Rep. Bradley Slagh (R-Zeeland).
The legislation expands Michigan's Crime Victims Compensation act to increase the number of both eligible individuals and expenses that qualify compensation. The maximum award for funeral expenses would be raised from $5,000 to $8,000. The highest emergency award would rise from $500 to $4,000. The largest aggregate award per claimant would go from $25,000 to $45,000.
Thomas said the two bills will "broaden support to cover the actual costs of what survivors face after becoming victims – things like funeral expenses, lost wages and other losses from victimization."
"Michigan has the worst – and I'm gonna say this again – Michigan has the worst victim compensation program in the entire country," Thomas said. "For survivors, in order to be eligible for the program, you must file a report within 48 hours after becoming a victim. Once you do that, you only have one year to apply for the program."
Thomas, and more than 100 attendees, supported the legislation's elimination of the aforementioned 48-hour time limit, as well as allowing victims to have up to five years to apply for assistance.
According to data from the Alliance for Safety and Justice, 25% of Michigan residents were the victim of a crime within a 10-year period. However, fewer than one in five reported that they received information about the services available to them – and even fewer acquired any medical assistance, mental health support or emergency housing.
"Being a victim impacts more than just your physical health and without financial and mental health support, trauma can lead to substance abuse or difficulty maintaining livelihoods," said Shari WARE of Southfield, the founder of "Still Standing" Against Domestic Violence.
Ware said domestic violence survivors that come to her organization tell her they "have never heard" of Michigan's compensation program for victims.
"When you're a victim of a crime – a violent crime – your healing journey may take longer, so for most victims, by the time they find out about their victim's compensation, it's too late to take action," Ware said. "Michigan should also expand support to include relocation for safety, residential safety and a full range of funeral and burial costs. That's why the Senate must pass the Safer Michigan Act."
Thursday, the Senate placed the legislation on the "Order of Third Reading," meaning the bills could be voted on and returned to the House next week.
"There is just too much red tape. There is too short of a reporting timeline to be able to access what already exists to help the recovery happen and break the cycle," said Kahle. "The Legislature, crime victims, advocates…we have to link arms together, (as well as) public safety leaders, and be a voice for victims and be a voice for doing things better in our state."