Tuesday, April 11, 2000

Crime victims can get aid via Web

Ohio fund has $37 million available

By Spencer Hunt
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

        COLUMBUS — Attorney General Betty Montgomery hopes the Internet will help crime victims get money from a $37 million state fund set up to help them.

        Anyone with a computer can now read information and print out applications for Ohio's Crime Victim Compensation Fund from the attorney general's Web site. Ms. Montgomery announced the change Monday as part of an ongoing effort to make the state's compensation system faster and easier to use.

        Created in 1976, the fund offers victims and their survivors payments of up to $50,000 to cover lost wages, medical bills and other crime-related damages. The state pays only if victims have no private insurance or benefits that pick up those costs.

        The fund has built a healthy balance over the past five years as the number of total claims have dropped. While officials blame the decline on falling crime rates, victims who do apply often have to wait eight months to two years to get paid.

        “A lot of people feel they have to get a lawyer to go after this money, because it's a court process,” Ms. Montgomery said.

        Visitors to the attorney general Web site, www.agohio.org, can read about the compensation program, see if it applies to them and print out a three-page application form. The Web page includes a Columbus address where applicants can mail the completed forms.

        The Web page by itself won't cut more than a week's worth of red tape and delivery time. Victims won't see a much faster turnaround time on payments, Ms. Montgomery warned, until a more far-reaching set of reforms takes effect July 1.

        That's the day a new state law transfers sole power over the program to the attorney general's office. Right now, Ms. Montgomery has to ask the Ohio Court of Claims to approve or deny the applica tions.

        With the Court of Claims out of the picture, Ms. Montgomery thinks she can cut the payment cycle from an average 18 months to 180 days.

        “Six months is still a long time to wait,” she said. “But there will still be some delays, chiefly getting medical records from hospitals.”

        Whether Internet access will encourage more victims to apply also remains an open question. Ms. Montgomery said there is no way to estimate how many people will use computers to print out and mail in the forms.

        Amanda Krodel, a clinical service provider at Cincinnati's Talbert House, has helped more than 150 crime victims fill out compensation applications over the past year. She does not think Internet access to forms will spur a big jump in applications.

        “It will probably make it easier for middle- and upper middle-class people to get the forms,” Ms. Krodel said. “People who don't have computers, it won't help them out.”

        The number of claims awarded compensation funds has fallen, to 3,985 in 1999 from 5,246 claims in 1995. Victims were paid $12.4 million in 1995 and $11.3 million last year.

        Attorney general spokesman Chris Davey blames the drop on an overall decline in crime. But he said his office plans to step up efforts this summer to promote its new streamlined process to victims.

        “We certainly want as many people as possible to know about this,” he said.


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