Crime victims get more, easier assistance under revised compensation program

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JEFFERSON CITY - A house bill reforming the Department of Public Safety's Crime Victims' Compensation Program took effect Tuesday.

The program, which provides compensation to victims of violent crime, has existed since 1982. Last year, it compensated Missouri victims with more than $5 million.

The reform, which was passed by a 133-15 vote in the House, provides updates aimed at making it easier for victims to apply for the program.

“These changes will significantly ease the burden victims must meet in order to apply for compensation and make more people eligible to receive reimbursement for the expenses they experience as a result of crime,” Sandra Karsten, acting director of Department of Public Safety said in a statement Wednesday.

Program Manager Katrina Prenger echoed Karsten's sentiment.

"These changes are really exciting. They've made some great opportunities for our applicants to ease the process for them," Prenger said.

Tyler Rieke, Executive Director of the Coalition Against Rape and Domestic Violence in Fulton, said she is grateful for the reforms.

"These changes are going to open up crime victims compensation to a significantly larger population of victims of crime in Missouri and I know our organization and organizations similar to ours are just elated to have seen these changes come out," Rieke said.

Before the reform, victims had to report the crime within 48 hours, which is no longer the case. The reform also removed the need for notarization of their application, which can be an "extra step" for victims to deal with, Prenger said.

"Now that is no longer necessary so they can email it, fax it or scan it in," Prenger said.

Those eligible for the program can receive assistance with a variety of expenses, including counseling costs and lost wages. Prenger said the updates increase the amount of money the program can reimburse victims for.

"Previously there had been a cap on counseling. The amount of funds that could be reimbursed for counseling expenses," Prenger said. "That has been removed now so that folks who are receiving lengthier counseling, that will add up quickly, can now continue to get counseling reimbursed past the $2500 mark."

Department of Public Safety Communications Director Mike O'Connell said the reform has also expanded who is eligible for compensation.

"If you yourself had been convicted of two felonies within a ten year period and then you yourself were a victim of crime, you were ineligible," O'Connell said. "Those people can now apply and receive benefits, so that's another change to be aware of."

Prenger is confident the changes will be well received.

"I think we are going to hear a lot of positive response. This is going to open up a lot of opportunities for victims to receive some additional assistance that they had not been privy to previously so it's really exciting for us."