AUSTIN (KXAN) – Gov. Greg Abbott has signed a bill into law that will expand eligibility for the Texas Crime Victims’ Compensation Program and increase financial support for certain types of claims.

Senate Bill 49, by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, widens eligibility for household members of victims, ups the amount of relocation compensation, lifts the cap on lost wages for family members of deceased victims, eliminates certain caps on bereavement leave and more, according to the legislative analysis.

Abbott signed the bill May 19, and it goes into effect on Sept. 1, 2023.

State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, wrote a House companion bill. Her office said they strategically opted to move forward with Zaffirini’s legislation to speed its passage.

Crime victims and their advocates said the program’s rules needed to be updated to keep up with current costs and support more victims associated with crimes.

The program is operated by the office of Attorney General Ken Paxton. It is meant to assist victims whose lives have been derailed by a violent crime. Eligible crimes include assault, rape, murder and mass shootings, among many others.

Last fiscal year, the program received more than 27,000 applications filed by crime victims and paid over $71.8 million to victims of crime, according to the 2022 annual report. Money for the program mostly comes from court fees, federal grants and fees paid by people convicted of crimes.

A 2022 KXAN investigation of the program found that staffing shortages had created a toxic work environment. Multiple employees in the division operating the program told KXAN they were understaffed, overworked and increasingly unable to process claims in a timely manner. That meant crime victims were waiting longer for help to rebuild their lives.

KXAN obtained records in 2022 that showed victims waited more than four months, on average, for a first payment on a claim. In April, KXAN requested updated data and found the delays have worsened.

In April, it was taking six months on average for a first payment to be made on a victim claim. KXAN also found the number of first payments taking more than 250 days – which is an internal metric monitored by the division – had tripled in less than a year.

Paxton’s office did not respond to a request for comment about the problems KXAN most recently uncovered.