Court battle holds up payments to victims of NC sterilization program
Posted November 10, 2016
Leland, N.C. — Elnora Mills just wants what the state promised her after taking away her chance to be a parent.
Mills was 16 when doctors sterilized her without her knowledge during an appendectomy. She didn't learn of the procedure until after she was married, when she and her husband were unable to have children.
"It's still not right what the state did to us. I think they did us dirty," said Mills, who is now 65 and lives alone in a mobile home in Brunswick County.
More than 7,600 North Carolinians were forcibly sterilized between the 1930s and 1970s under the state's eugenics program. Many were intellectually or developmentally disabled, while others were juvenile delinquents, children of parents addicted to drugs or alcohol or simply from poor families. State officials deemed all of them unfit to be parents.
Three years ago, state lawmakers set aside $10 million in a compensation fund to help rectify the wrong. More than 200 living victims received $20,000 each in 2014 and another $15,000 each last year.
Mills said she used her restitution to put new doors on her home and to pay for her late husband's medical bills, funeral and gravesite. Buddy Mills died of cancer in May.
"He's better off where's he at. He's not suffering. He wanted to stay a little big longer while I get my last check," she said, choking back tears.
She and other eugenics victims are still awaiting their final payment from the compensation fund. She said she needs the money for her own medical bills. She has cancer that started in her nose and has spread, blinding her in one eye, and she recently spent a week in a hospital after doctors removed tumors from her stomach.
"It makes me mad with Raleigh, the senators and the legislators," she said. "Why is it taking y'all so long to pay people fixed by the state? They need their money like I do."
State Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake, said the money is being held up by lawsuits pending in the North Carolina Supreme Court. The court is expected to hear next month some of the eight appeals from people who say they are eugenics victims and entitled to payment from the compensation fund.
"The money is appropriated and in the custody of the state treasurer, and we're waiting for the courts to tell us how much she will get for her third and final payment," Stam said of Mills.
The cases need to be resolved so that officials know how many people will split the money left in the compensation fund, Stam said. The final payments may be around $8,000.
"I wish they could be paid immediately, but I'm not in charge of the world," Stam said, noting he has spoken to Mills about her plight several times.
He said he doesn't think legislation to speed up payment to eugenics victims is necessary.
The Governor's Office didn't respond to questions about eugenics payments, and U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who was speaker of the state House when lawmakers established the compensation fund, referred questions to the state Department of Administration, which is in charge of doling out money from the fund. Agency officials reiterated that the final payments to victims are tied up in the courts.
Mills said she can hear her husband telling her not to give up, to keep fighting for her money.
"I talk to him all the time," she said sobbing, "but he won't be here to see me get my last check."