“Aftershocks,” A Series About Surviving Gun Violence In Chicago, was originally published by The Trace, a nonprofit newsroom covering gun violence in America, in partnership with The Chicago Sun-Times and La Raza. Sign up for The Trace’s newsletters here.
CHICAGO — If you or a family member experienced a violent crime, you might be entitled to some help from the state in covering your costs. Each year, Illinois sets aside millions of dollars for the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Program, which is designed to reimburse victims and their families for injury- or death-related expenses.
We spent months investigating how the program works. We found that, between 2015-2020, fewer than four in 10 claims received a financial reimbursement. Thousands of applicants don’t get money when they could be eligible for it.
This guide explains how the program works, and what to expect if you apply. If you live outside Illinois, you can learn more about how compensation works in general here.
What is victims compensation, and what can I use the money for?
- First things first. The Illinois Crime Victim Compensation program is a reimbursement program — it will pay you back for out-of-pocket costs you spent related to the victim’s injury or death. This excludes funds covered by your insurance. The process can take several months. If approved, the reimbursement will go to you or the vendor you owe money to directly, like a funeral home. This isn’t a program that is going to provide you financial assistance very quickly.
- The program reimburses many different types of expenses, including funeral and burial costs, relocation, mental health counseling, and income loss.
Who can apply?
- Victims of violent crimes that occured in the state of Illinois and their family members. If your spouse or child was killed in Illinois, but you live out of state, you are still eligible to apply for reimbursement to cover the expenses you paid related to their death.
How much money can I get through this program?
- Under current law, you can receive reimbursements up to $27,000. However, there are some service-specific limits. For example, the cost of a funeral will be reimbursed only up to $7,500. Learn more in this program FAQ. These limits will be raised next year.
Are there any requirements I should know about?
- State law requires that the crime must have been reported to law enforcement within 72 hours of occuring, in most cases. The deadline for sexual offenses is one week.
- Applicants must cooperate with law enforcement (more on this later).
- You have up to two years from the date of your crime to file a claim.
What if I have insurance?
- If you have insurance, then you will likely not receive a reimbursement for costs that your insurance company paid. However, if you paid a copay, you can include this in your claim.
- In order to receive victim compensation, you have to prove that you exhausted all other financial options before applying for the reimbursement. This is important to remember as you choose which expenses you would like to include in your application.
How to apply
- The application for victim compensation is available on the Illinois Attorney General’s Office website. The office has video explainers in English and in Spanish that walk you step-by-step through how it works.
- Please note, it’s important to keep any receipts or records of your expenses from the beginning of your recovery. These records are necessary because you will need to prove you’ve paid for these services in order to receive your reimbursement.
- If you need help filling out the application, you can contact a victim advocate organization that can assist you. Some organizations that might be able to help you include: Resilience, Institute for Nonviolence Chicago, and Metropolitan Family Services.
- You can mail your application to the Attorney General’s Office or submit it online. (As of April, online applications are unavailable because of a ransomware attack on state government offices.)
- While the application includes many different fields, you should fill out the required information and any lines that are relevant to the specific claims you are seeking reimbursement for.
What to expect after you file
- Once you apply, you will likely receive a letter in the mail from the Attorney General’s Office requesting additional information to process your claim. Typically, you will have 30 days to respond, and you might receive a call from the analyst directly. This is when the receipts and records that we told you to hang onto become important. The paperwork the Attorney General’s Office sends you will include your claim number. Remember to keep this.
- If you can’t or don’t respond in time, call the Attorney General’s Office and explain your situation. Even if you miss the deadline, the Attorney General’s Office says it’s willing to help people to ensure their claim is processed. This is especially important because many people are eligible to receive funds but don’t because of additional paperwork they need to turn in.
How to find out the status of your application
- To find out the current status of your claim, contact the state’s toll-free Crime Victims Assistance Line. The phone number is 1-800-228-3368, and the text talk line is 1-877-398-1130.
Things to keep in mind
- Read closely every piece of paperwork the Attorney General’s Office sends you. If you have any questions, give the office a call, and someone will explain what you need to provide.
- You may submit multiple claims related to the same crime. For example, if you submit a claim to reimburse funeral costs, but you later sought counseling services, these services might also be eligible for reimbursement if your insurance hasn’t already paid for it.
- Keep in mind that, depending on the claim, not all of the reimbursement will go directly to you. If you are awarded money to pay funeral or medical costs, this will be paid to the vendor directly.
- Although you may hear comments from friends, hospitals, or law enforcement about whether or not you might be eligible for the reimbursement, always double check what they say by contacting the Attorney General’s Office directly.
- If you disagree about a ruling on your claim, you have a right to seek an appeal.
Don’t think you qualify? Here’s what you should know
- Lawmakers made several changes to the Illinois Crime Victim Compensation Program earlier this year. They included expanded eligibility for applicants. Many of these changes will take effect next year, so it’s possible that if you’re not eligible now, you will be in a few months, and there is still a chance for you to apply. If you have any questions, contact the Attorney General’s Office.
Changes Coming to Illinois’ Victim Compensation Program
January 2022 and onwards
|Who Can Apply||Parent, guardian, spouse, and unmarried children.||The definition has been broadly expanded to include nontraditional families, and considers spouses and other family members to be victims, as well.|
|Overall Compensation Cap||$27,000||$45,000*|
|The Cap on Compensation for Funeral Expenses||$7,500||$10,000|
|The Cap on Compensation for Loss of Support||$1,250/mo||$2,400/mo|
|Law Enforcement||Applicants must cooperate with law enforcement||Applicants will no longer be strictly held to this requirement, and the Attorney General’s Office will consider many factors that might influence someone’s willingness to cooperate with law officials.|
|Deadline to Apply||2 years within date of crime||5 years within date of crime|
|Limits of who can receive reimbursement||You cannot receive a victim compensation reimbursement if you are in jail, on parole, on mandatory supervised release, or in prison.||Anyone can receive funds as long as they are not currently incarcerated.|
|Emergency funds||Available, with a cap of $2,000||The program will disperse emergency awards specifically for funeral expenses and relocation costs directly to vendors. The amount will be subtracted from the overall financial claim limit.|
*The changes to the reimbursement cap will go into effect August 7, 2022