The California Victims of Crime Program, burdened by an unforeseen overload of cases from two years ago, is beginning to break up a backlog that forced victims to wait as long as 18 months to receive financial help, the program's chief administrator told a legislative panel Tuesday.
Lane Richmond, executive director of the victims' program, said in a Los Angeles hearing that the average wait for compensation is now about six months--double the program's goal of 90 days but a substantial improvement over the delays of the past two years.
Several crime victims and medical and legal service providers told the panel about long waits for financial assistance promised by the state program. Among those who testified were parents of children in the McMartin preschool molestation cases and one woman who survived an attack in which she was shot seven times and beaten with a gun.
Joyce Johnson of Los Angeles, who declined to discuss the circumstances of the shooting attack in July, 1984, said she has received $16,000 toward medical bills totaling $83,000. (Victim funds generally cover uninsured medical costs and loss of pay; the ceiling per victim will increase from $23,000 to $46,000 on Jan. 1, with average compensation at $2,300.)
Delay Adds Stress
"I am very grateful there is state assistance," Johnson said. But the delay, she said, "adds a stress that is also painful."
A mother of an 8-year-old boy who was allegedly molested at the McMartin Pre-School said the state provided only $35 toward the boy's therapy sessions, which cost nearly $2,000, because of an apparent bureaucratic snafu. The expense became so great, she said, that she and her husband had to remove the boy from therapy at the time.
Richmond told state Atty. Gen. John Van de Kamp and fellow panelists Sen. Art Torres (D-South Pasadena) and Assemblyman Charles M. Calderon (D-Alhambra) that Johnson and others "got caught in the backlog" created by an unforeseen surge of claims during the last two years.
"People are more aware of the program. People are reporting more crimes, like child molesting, that didn't get reported before," he explained.
The number of claims jumped from 14,600 in the last fiscal year to a projected 22,500 this year, officials said.
But an increase in the program's staff from 52 employees to 105, along with a new computer system, have enabled waiting time to be decreased, Richmond said. The program has established a target of Feb. 14 to reduce the processing period, from application to payment, to 90 days.