New Victim Service Portal is Accessible Today For Victim Advocates in Western New York and Available Statewide By Mid-May
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced the launch of a new online application system that will aid crime victims and their family members who are seeking compensation for medical bills, moving expenses, lost wages, and other forms of assistance. Last year, the state Office of Victim Services received more than 17,500 paper-based claims, making this online system a more efficient and streamlined way to process those requests for help.
“Launching this new online system is an important step towards helping victims receive the compensation and the support they deserve,” Governor Cuomo said. “This easy-to-use application system will make it easier to submit claims, and it represents another way that we’re making government work better, smarter and more efficiently for the people of New York State.”
Administered by the Office of Victim Services, the online Victim Service Portal is now live in Western New York, accessible to victim advocates who work for the 49 victim assistance programs funded by the agency in that region. The portal will be activated in the five remaining regions of the state over the next six weeks, with all 228 agency-funded programs able to file online claims by mid-May.
Approximately 85 percent of claims filed are submitted by victim assistance programs. The Victim Service Portal also is accessible to victim assistance programs not funded by the agency and is scheduled to be available in June to individuals seeking to file their own claims.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, “When someone is a victim of a crime, it can seem as if the whole world has been turned upside down, so we are always looking for ways to improve services and better respond to the needs of crime victims. The Victim Service Portal meets both of those important goals. This was truly a collaborative effort, with the Office of Victim Services and information technology staff working in partnership with victim assistance programs to make this project a reality.”
The portal streamlines the application process. For example, users can edit or modify applications prior to submission; electronically submit required documents, such as crime reports or medical records; and check the status of a claim. It also will reduce the time it currently takes staff to process, review and decide claims.
Before the portal was implemented, staff scanned all hard-copy claim applications and other required documents, creating an electronic online file for review. Online claim reviews began in 2008 and cut the agency’s processing time in half. The portal will further reduce processing time, with the goal of making an eligibility decision within two months of receiving a claim and all required documents. In certain cases, however, the agency can provide emergency assistance to eligible individuals within days.
Niagara County Sheriff James Voutour, who also serves as President of the New York State Sheriffs’ Association, said, “Victim advocates who work in my office always go the extra mile to assist crime victims, connecting them with services and offering support and encouragement during difficult times. The Victim Service Portal will allow them, and advocates who work in partnership with Sheriffs' Offices and other law enforcement agencies, to file claims more efficiently. I commend the Office of Victim Services for this important step forward, which will result in crime victims getting the assistance they need in a more timely fashion.”
Bronx District Attorney Robert Johnson said, “We consider providing services to the victims of crime one of the most important aspects of our mission. Our Crime Victims Assistance Unit facilitates claims processing and now the new Victim Service Portal will improve the ability for our staff to expedite the process of compensating crime victims in Bronx County.”
The Office of Victim Services accepts three types of claims: personal injury, death, and essential personal property, which covers necessary items stolen or damaged as a result of a crime. Last year, it provided more than $20 million in compensation to nearly 8,300 crime victims and/or their families. That figure includes claims awarded and paid for the first time last year and claims awarded in prior years – for ongoing medical bills, as an example – that continued to be paid in 2014.
New York State Chief Information Officer Maggie Miller said, “This was an important project that took significant planning and collaboration between many partners to bring to fruition. It is good to know that our teams have helped to make it easier for victims of crime to get the assistance they need.”
Under state and federal law, individuals eligible for assistance must be innocent victims of crime. The Office of Victim Services can reduce an award or deny a claim if it determines that a victim’s conduct contributed to their injuries. In addition, the agency is a payer of last resort, which means that all other sources of compensation must be exhausted before the agency can pay a victim or their family for out-of-pocket losses and other expenses related to the crime. For example, benefits must first be obtained from health or other insurance policies or workers’ compensation before the agency can provide assistance.
Funding for crime victims’ compensation and the cost of the agency’s 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. Those fines and fees also fund nearly all of the $36.2 million provided to 228 victim assistance programs across the state.
For more information about services offered by the agency, including eligibility guidelines and a list of victim assistance programs that provide direct help, such as counseling and crisis intervention, advocacy and legal assistance, to crime victims across all 62 counties in New York, visit www.ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.