There are about 600 people alive today who were sterilized against their will or without their knowledge by the state of California, and now California would like to pay them reparations—but the state can’t find them and time is running out.
As the Associated Press reports, a $4.5 million fund was established to pay the victims a minimum of $15,000 each but after a year of looking, the state has approved just 51 of them, and there’s only a year left to to find the others before program ends.
“We take that mission very seriously to find these folks,” said Lynda Gledhill, executive officer of the California Victims’ Compensation Board that oversees the program, said. “Nothing we can do can make up for what happened to them.”
In 2021, California became third state to grant a reparations program for forced sterilizations, and the state was the first to include recent victims from state prisons.
The victims come from two groups: people sterilized in state prisons about a decade ago, and those steralized during the eugenics era, a pseudoscience that reached its height in the 1930s, espousing “racial hygiene” through the sterilization of minorities, people with disabilities and others deemed inferior. Although the movement is most closely associated with the Nazis, who took it to its ultimate horror, eugenics was wildly popular across Europe and the United States, and some argue that the Nazis learned a thing or two from us.
In California’s bid to make amends, it has launched several visibility and publicity campaigns to find the victims. Officials have sent posters and fact sheets to 1,000 skilled nursing homes and 500 libraries hoping to track down eugenics era victims who would now be in their 80s and 90s. Of those approved for reparations so far, only three were sterilized during the eugenics era.
Flyer are also being distributed throughout state prisons, encouraging inmates who believe they may have been sterilized to apply.
The state also recently signed a $280,000 contract with JP Marketing to design a social media campaign that will appear through the rest of the year, with big TV and radio ad buys in L.A., San Francisco and Sacramento starting this month and running through October, the AP reports.
While only the victims are eligible for payments, they can appoint a beneficiary in case they die before receiving the total amount they are owed.
The few who are receiving payments stand to get much more. Whatever remains of the state’s $4.5 million reparation fund when the program ends will be split evenly among the approved victims.
Democratic Assemblywoman Wendy Carrillo, an early backer of the reparation legislation, says she will ask fellow lawmakers to extend the application deadline beyond 2023.
“I’m not thrilled with the numbers that we are seeing so far,” she told AP, “but I believe that as we exit out of COVID and we begin to fully work at our full capacity—meaning that we are able to do community meetings and in-person meetings and more direct outreach other than behind a computer and through Zoom—things will change.”
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