SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — There’s a surcharge paid by criminal offenders in South Dakota that helps pay for the expenses of the victims of the crime.
The program is called the victims’ compensation program. All states in the U.S. have a similar program with variations.
After a review of the program in Pennsylvania, the Associated Press questioned if Blacks were denied a disproportionate share of victims’ compensation claims in other states. The AP requested and gathered program data from 2018-2021 from all 50 states and received it from 23 states. It broke down that data by race in terms of approvals and denials.
The largest minority in South Dakota are American Indians/Native Americans at 9% of the population, according to the U.S. Census. Blacks make up 2.5% of the population.
The state data is from the state’s fiscal year of July 1 through June 30 while any federal data cited is from the federal fiscal year of Oct. 1 through Sept. 30. The AP used state data for denials and federal data for applications.
From 2018-2021 712 total applications for claims were filed and 125 were denied.
White applicants filed 422 total claims and 63 of those were denied. American Indians/Native Americans filed 172 total claims and 32 were denied. Blacks filed a total of 43 claims and 14 were denied.
From 2018 to 2021, about 19% of all claims filed by American Indian/Native Americans were denied. Comparatively, 32% of the claims filed by Blacks were denied. For whites, 15% of the claims were denied.
In 2018, 36 American Indians/Native Americans applied for victims’ compensation and 10 were denied, so roughly 30% of all applications were denied. American Indians/Native Americans made up 22% of all claims in 2018.
That same year, 14% of all claims by white applicants were denied. White applicants made up 62% of all claims. While only 14% of all claims by white applicants were denied, the group still made up 42% of all denials.
The state had six Black applicants in 2018 and four applications were denied. The six applications made up 3.73% of all claims and 12% of all denials.
The July 2022 U.S. Census lists Blacks as 2.5% of the state’s roughly 909,00 population. That would be about 22,725 persons. The South Dakota Crime Report 2021 lists 1,482 total Black victims of crimes in its victims by race category for 2021 The category lists a total of 29,991 victims by race in the categories of Black, American Indian, Asian, Native Hawaiian, Unknown and White.
When businesses and people are included in the victim total, it increases to 48,292 in 2021.
The victims’ compensation program in South Dakota is referred to by the state as “a last resort for payment” of qualified expenses.
According to the South Dakota Department of Public Safety, the victims’ compensation program can pay if there is no other source such as private insurance of Medicare or Medicaid. The program can also help pay for homicide scene cleanup expenses, funeral expenses, dental and prosthetic devices and similar.
While the state of Iowa does not describe the victims’ compensation program as a “last resort,” it does state that “The program can pay your crime-related bills not covered by insurance or other sources.”
Applications grew from 161 in 2018 to 215 in 2021. Denials decreased from 33 in 2018 to 26 in 2022.
“The majority of people I talk with don’t have insurance,” said Anna Kirchenwitz, a victim witness assistant with the states attorney in Minnehaha County. “I feel like its more uncommon for someone to actually have insurance,” she said.
Sovanna Beekman works with victims in Beadle County. Beekman used the example of travel expenses for counseling appointments that may not be covered by insurance.
The primary victim may need the counseling and the parents, secondary applicants, may be eligible to apply for travel expenses, Beekman said.
Wages lost when a parent leaves work for a victim’s counseling expenses could also qualify for the compensation program, Beekman said.
Medical expenses can add up for victims.
“…they are going to be incurring medical bills if they’ve been assaulted,” Kirchenwitz said.
Beekman and Kirchenwitz both help victims complete compensation application forms. The state program representatives have also been helpful to them and victims, they said.
The state DPS lists several reasons why claims can be denied such as failure to report the crime or failure to file the claim during a required time period. Another reason for denial is the victim’s contribution/conduct.
Of the 125 total denials in South Dakota from 2018-2021, 95 were denied for behavioral reasons, according to state data from the AP. The data used for 2021 is for a full calendar year and not a fiscal year.
Thirteen of 14 denials from Black applicants were for behavior. Nineteen of the 32 total denials for American Indians/Native Americans were for behavior. And about 79% of the denials (63) for white applicants were for behavior (50).
“One of the reasons I see (claims) get rejected is if their conduct was involved,” Kirchenwitz said. She said her understanding of an example would believe people were, including the victim, were fighting with each other.
Another example would be “if the (victim) contributed to the crime. That’s one of the main reasons that’s I’d see a denial,” Kirchenwitz said.