NYS Office of Victim Services Expands Burial Costs Benefits
The New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) today announced significant changes that will make it easier for individuals to receive help from the agency for the cost of burying victims of crime. A new law and regulations taking effect today increase to $3,000 the emergency award available from OVS for burial costs, ensure appropriate burial expenses are reimbursed by the agency and include OVS as a funeral creditor if there is an estate. This expansion of benefits is effective for all death claims filed on or after June 26, 2019.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, “The loss of a loved one due to a crime is a devastating reality for many people, but the amendments to this law will relieve some of the financial burden to those left behind. On behalf of the Office of Victim Services, I thank Governor Cuomo for signing this law which will allow OVS to continue to provide compensation in a timely, efficient and compassionate manner.”
Individuals who paid or incurred burial costs for a crime victim may be eligible for up to $6,000 from OVS for those expenses: funeral services, burial plot, the deceased’s burial clothes, clergy fees, transportation costs for the deceased, obituaries, head stone, flowers, death certificates, and church fees for religious services and flowers.
Under the previous law and regulations, that award could be reduced or denied entirely if a victim’s conduct contributed to his or her death. This would put family members, loved ones or even Good Samaritans at risk of being denied reimbursement for burial expenses due to the actions of the victim.
Under the previous law and regulations, the maximum emergency award for burial expenses from OVS totaled $2,500. With the new emergency amount of $3,000 for burial – 50 percent of the $6,000 cap – these changes eliminate the need for OVS to recoup any emergency award amount based on a later determination that the victim contributed to the crime resulting in his or her death. Additionally, OVS is now considered a funeral creditor and has the legal ability to recover funds from an estate in the event the victim has one. OVS regularly receives inquiries from administrators or attorneys about their legal obligation to repay OVS from an estate, but no such obligation existed until now.
This legislation is the latest in a series of changes to state law and increased financial investment under Governor Cuomo's leadership designed to expand eligibility and improve access to assistance and services for crime victims. Other significant changes include the nearly $16 million in federal funding administered by OVS to expand access to civil legal assistance for victims of crime; $8.4 million in state and federal funding to improve and expand services for vulnerable adults at risk of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation; and $4.5 million to expand child advocacy centers and fund mobile centers to ensure child abuse victims have access to these services closer to home.
In addition, vulnerable elderly or disabled individuals incapable of caring for themselves who have lost up to $30,000 in savings because of a crime are eligible to seek OVS assistance. The change recognizes that many vulnerable elderly or disabled individuals fall victim to financial exploitation, as well as abuse, often by someone they know. Previously, the agency could only reimburse victims to this extent for loss of support or earnings.
Furthermore, funeral home businesses that pay for burial costs on behalf of a family are eligible to then recover those expenses from OVS. Previously, only an individual who paid or incurred burial expenses - a family member or a person who owned a funeral home - was eligible for reimbursement. This change modernized the law by acknowledging that funeral homes are now often associated with larger businesses operated by boards instead of individual owners.
These legislative changes come at no cost to taxpayers. Funding for crime victims' compensation and reimbursement, as well as the Office of Victim Services’ day-to-day operations comes entirely from the fines, mandatory surcharges and crime victim assistance fees that certain offenders must pay following conviction in New York State or federal courts.
The state Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members who have been victimized through no fault of their own and have no other means of assistance. The agency compensates and reimburses eligible individuals and family members for medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, and loss or damage of essential personal property, in addition to other assistance.
In addition, the agency currently funds more than 200 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, such as counseling, crisis intervention, advocacy and legal assistance, across New York State. For more information about services offered by the agency, including eligibility guidelines, visitovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.