- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 8, 2015

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - New York has begun taking online applications from crime victims to cover medical bills, lost pay, moving expenses, stolen or damaged property and other losses.

The state Office of Victim Services, which last year received more than 17,500 claims on paper, said online filing should make the process easier and faster.

The office reported providing more than $20 million to nearly 8,300 crime victims and their families last year, including ongoing medical bills for earlier injuries. Approved and paid claims included 6,000 for personal injuries, 638 for deaths and 1,638 for property.

“It’s essentially offenders funding victim compensation,” said Elizabeth Cronin, director of the Office of Victim Services. “We wanted to try to make the process more accessible. Lots of people, especially younger ones, are doing things electronically. We have to be responsive to that.”

The online system is now operating in western New York and also accessible to advocates who work for 49 victim assistance programs in that region. It’s scheduled to roll out across the rest of the state over the next six weeks, reaching Long Island, New York City and its immediate suburbs in the first two weeks of May.

The money for victims comes from fines, surcharges and fees paid by criminals in state and federal courts. That money also pays nearly all of the $36.2 million provided to 228 victim assistance programs across the state, said Cronin, a former prosecutor. About 80 percent comes through the federal government, she said.

Some other states already have and many others are considering electronic claim filing, but New York had to build its own program over the past two years to ensure compatibility with its data system, Cronin said. It also was designed for security to protect the privacy of victims.

According to state officials, the goal is deciding eligibility within two months of receiving claims and all required documents, though emergency funds of up to $2,500 can come within days. It can pay up to $600 a week for lost wages or support up to a $30,000 cap. It can pay up to $6,000 for burial expenses. There’s no cap on medical expenses, which can include counseling.

Victims had to have filed a police report or have a forensic rape exam at a hospital. Charges or convictions of alleged perpetrators are not required.

Claims are due within one year of the crime or must come with an explanation why they were filed later. They can be denied or reduced if the office believes victims’ conduct contributed to their own injuries.

The state office is generally considered “a payer of last resort,” after insurance or other compensation is exhausted, except in rape cases, Cronin said






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