Everette Johnson bows his head in prayer at an event celebrating Miriam Shehane on April 13, 2023. Johnson has been named the new director of the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission. (Ralph Chapoco/Alabama Reflector)
The Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission will request $2.2 million from the Governor’s Emergency Fund to work through a backlog of cases.
Commission members Thursday voted to approve the request and hire additional staff to deal with the cases. The commission, which provides financial assistance to victims of violent crimes, will receive about $1.5 million from the General Fund budget next year.
Some of the additional personnel will be hired from a pool of workers who have already retired that the ACVCC wants to onboard.
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
GET THE MORNING HEADLINES DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX
“We have five claims specialists who are handling nearly 2,000 backlogged claims, some dating as far back as 10 years,” said Everette Johnson, the commission’s executive director. “We feel like if we could bring in some retired state employees that have claims experience, particularly experience here, and put them to work on the old claims, we could knock out these backlogs of claims and be more efficient.”
The plan is to hire two former state employees for about 14 weeks. If they work a 40-hour workweek at a rate of $25 per hour, the Commission is prepared to pay about $15,071 more in personnel costs plus taxes for the remaining fiscal year.
That cost excludes benefits such as health insurance and retirement, which the former state employees are not eligible to receive.
The Commission has struggled to pay out claims from victims and their families. Applicants have criticized the agency for extended delays in receiving their payments, with some waiting years to receive their money.
Others have complained they are not receiving timely updates from the commission with respect to their applications.
In late February, Faith in Action Alabama traveled to the Commission to protest the delays. The interim executive director and general counsel Kim Martin said the delays have to do with funding. The AVCC receives money for its operations and services through fines and fees that are paid to counties and cities, along with restitution payments.
Martin said the agency has experienced a steady decrease in funding from its traditional revenue sources over the past decade. Commissioners and agency leaders requested an allocation from the Legislature for $5 million during the most recent session. Lawmakers allocated a total of $1.5 million to the agency from the General Fund.
The Commission has been receiving $100,000 in state funding, which went to Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL) to assist their operations.
“Bringing these retirees on right now would probably be a pinch on us,” Johnson said. “In a few months, that pinch will be over with, and we will be back to where we need to be. At the same time, we have got to get a handle on these claims. We have got to get things under control and get these things processed.”
Johnson told the commission that he has reconfigured the composition of the five specialists working at the commission, with three assigned to handle claims that submitted from this year moving forward while the other two will work on the claims from the beginning of this year working backwards along with the retired state employees.
“I do not have a timeframe honestly because it just depends on what we can get done, how quickly we can get a handle on that,” Johnson said. “But I am hoping, I speculate, within 18 months we could get this thing knocked out. That may be a big step, but I am going to push to get this done as quickly as possible.”
One commissioner, Holly Brown-Owens, had concerns that the additional hires placed the agency above the 25% threshold for administrative costs within the agency’s budget. State law says the commission cannot spend more than 25% of its budget for administrative costs.
“I totally agree with the hiring of the two retired people, but I think with the past issues of the 25%, I don’t see how we could agree to that now when we haven’t really been ideally willing to do that,” she said.
Johnson said they are above the threshold with the staff they currently have even with the current staffing levels. But he said the new hires will be temporary, simply to handle the backlog.
“All I can say is that this would be a temporary fix,” Johnson said. “By Oct. 1 we should be under 25% because there is new money coming in that we have never had before. The new math should bring us below 25%.”
With the additional funding from the legislature, as well as money from the Victims of Crime Act, which provides support to state and local programs that assist crime victims, the administrative costs should decrease as a percent of the overall budget.
Commissioners also approved Johnson’s request to maintain the administrative cost to 26.9% of the total budget to bring in support for the claim’s specialist personnel.
The emergency money from Gov. Ivey, if granted, would go directly to victims and families.
“We would use that money to go straight toward services and not go toward administrative cost,” Johnson said.
The request is for $2.2 million, which is the “difference from what we received in the $1.4 million and we broke it down to the figure of our outstanding claim liabilities for the backlogged claims,” said Kim Martin, general counsel for the Commission. “We essentially subtracted $1.4 million from that. This is the amount that was left.”
Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.