By Colleen Jenkins
WINSTON-SALEM, North Carolina (Reuters) - North Carolina's effort to become the first state to compensate people subjected to involuntary sterilizations failed when legislators passed a $20.2 billion budget on Thursday that does not include proposed $50,000 payments for each victim still alive.
The news came as a blow for the 146 verified living victims of a decades-long, state-sanctioned eugenics program that forced sterilizations and castrations on citizens deemed unfit to bear children.
"Many are angry, many of them are just distraught and devastated," said Charmaine Fuller Cooper, executive director of the state-funded N.C. Justice for Sterilization Victims Foundation. "Everyone had gotten their hopes up."
From 1929 to 1974, nearly 7,600 people, mostly women, were sterilized in North Carolina, where the eugenics program endured longer than similar programs in more than 30 U.S. states.
Records indicate that as many as 1,800 victims are still living in North Carolina.
The lump-sum payments for the survivors received support from the Republican-led state House of Representatives and Democratic Governor Beverly Perdue. But the plan did not get the backing of Senate Republicans during budget negotiations.
Critics cited concerns about the costs and said no amount of money would fix the wrongs committed by the eugenics program.
"We all agree with the fact that an apology is certainly appropriate," said Republican state Senator Chris Carney. "But I don't think that makes us any more sorry because we attach a dollar figure to it."
Earlier this year, a state eugenics compensation task force appointed by Perdue recommended awarding $50,000 to each of the living victims of the sterilization program, along with a package of mental health services.
Many of the people targeted by the program were poor, undereducated and institutionalized. While most other states' programs ended after World War Two, the peak years of North Carolina's program were from 1946 to 1968, leaving the state with more living victims as a result.
As part of a campaign in recent years to identify victims for compensation and educate the public about the former program, some of the people who were sterilized came forward and told their stories.
The collapse of efforts to compensate them has left some victims feeling re-victimized, Fuller Cooper said.
"It was never about money," she said. "It was about restoring dignity to people who had that dignity stripped away at a very young age."
The state budget is set to go in effect on July 1. Perdue has 10 days to decide whether she will veto it.
(Editing by Greg McCune and Xavier Briand)