After the mass shooting that occurred at a Walmart in El Paso on Aug. 3, local officials are shining a light on a state program that helps take the financial burden off victims of violent crime.
The Crime Victims’ Compensation Program was created in 1979 by the Texas Legislature and helps crime victims and their immediate families with the financial costs following the crime, including counseling, medical treatment and funerals, according to the Attorney General of Texas website.
The program can be used all over the state and is used in Parker County.
“It’s a program that runs through the state and everybody who is convicted for anything throughout the state pays a small amount into this fund, so it’s not a taxpayer fund, it’s money from people who are convicted of different crimes — everything from a speeding ticket to capital murder. Then the money sits in a pool and it can be used for funeral expenses, medical bills for people who are injured in violent crime and even hospital bills in a domestic violence situation,” Assistant District Attorney Jeff Swain said. “We commonly use it for counseling expenses for people who are victims of domestic violence and sexual offenses. We do have grant services through Freedom House and the Children’s Advocacy Center that doesn’t go through the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program, but we can use CVC to fund counseling outside of that. We’ve used it a lot locally.”
Swain said the CVC program will even help pay for moving expenses in a domestic violence situation.
The two Parker County representatives for the CVC program are County Attorney Victims’ Assistance Coordinator Lisa Mehrhoff and District Attorney Victims’ Assistance Coordinator Lucia Martinez.
“When a case comes to be, when someone’s arrested, there are a couple of ways we can get involved with Crime Victims’ Compensation. The first way would be while the person is still in jail, a victim is going to come in and ask for help or for bond conditions or a protective order. The second way is that the case gets filed with us and we mail them information, and most of our contacts come that way,” Mehrhoff said. “Every time a new case comes in there’s a 10-day window to get the information out to the victims and we send them a full packet of information.”
Martinez said the program helps ease the burden that results from violent crime.
“The program gives up to $50,000 for each victim as a credit limit to reimburse the victim for counseling medical bills, funeral expenses and traveling expenses,” Martinez said. “It definitely is a huge lift off victims’ shoulders because they didn’t ask for it and now they have to go to counseling or be up in the hospital, so having this program is kind of safe umbrella in helping them get through what happened to them.”
Swain said the program doesn’t take the place of those with insurance, but will pay deductibles, co-pays and co-insurance.
“In that situation it doesn’t pay in lieu of your insurance, it will pay all of those very large amounts that you incur even though you have insurance, so it doesn’t take the place of your insurance if you have it,” Swain said. “But we also serve a lot of folks that don’t have any insurance. It’s only for victims of violent crimes, not for victims of property crime and that sort of thing. It doesn’t pay you because you’ve been injured, it pays you for the things that come as a result.”
The shooting in El Paso killed 22 people and injured 24, and Swain said the CVC program can help.
“The victims in El Paso, their families would be able to access Crime Victims’ Compensation to pay for funeral expenses as well as counseling expenses,” Swain said. “The victims who were shot but did not pass away, thankfully, they would also be able to use that to pay for any expenses they have that their insurance didn’t pay for, if they had insurance, or in total if they didn’t, and then counseling for them as well and rehabilitation up to the cap.”
Mehrhoff said during the 13 years she’s worked with the program, she’s never seen it run out of money.
“Texas has a great program that never has utilized all the money that goes in every year, not once, it’s never been depleted. It’s being funded all the time by offenders and I have never heard of a year, and I’ve watched it for 13 years, that they ran out of money,” Mehrhoff said. “That’s why is so wonderful and it’s also good like in the El Paso situation I think not even a third of the victims were from Texas, they were from Mexico, and it will still help them. The program is available to people whether they’re residents of our state or whether they were a victim that was hurt in our state, so that’s another good thing about it.”
Victims can apply for the CVC program online at texasattorneygeneral.gov or by picking up a physical form at the county and district attorney’s offices.