AUSTIN (KXAN) – Legislation that would expand eligibility for the Crime Victims’ Compensation Program and improve support for victims was passed by the House on Thursday, the final hurdle before heading to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk to be signed into law.

The bill, SB 49, by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, would expand eligibility to household members of victims, increase the amount of relocation compensation available, increase the cap on lost wages paid to family members of a deceased victim, remove certain limits on bereavement leave and more, according to the bill and a Senate analysis. State Rep. Mary Gonzalez, D-Clint, authored a companion bill in the House.

“Recovering after violence can be a long, arduous journey. When victims are left to heal without support, they’re more likely to be revictimized and their lives can be destabilized,” said Terra Tucker, the Texas state director for Alliance for Safety and Justice, in a news release. “If it becomes law, countless survivors and their families can rest assured that they have support to remain safe and get their lives back on track.”

Program struggling to operate

The Crime Victims’ Compensation Program is operated by the office of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton. CVC is intended to help victims of violent crimes and close family members of crime victims who have been injured or killed with the financial cost of crime.

In 2022 the CVC program received over 42,000 applications and awarded nearly $72 million, according to the most recent annual report. Money for the program comes mostly from state court costs, federal grants and fees paid by people convicted of crimes. Over $81 million was put into the program last year.

KXAN investigated the CVC program in 2021 – following the Uvalde massacre – and found the OAG division operating the program has increasingly struggled in recent years to handle applications and disburse money quickly.

The OAG office has suffered from significant staffing vacancies and low morale, and crime victims have been feeling the impact, workers and victims said. KXAN found victim claims are taking longer to process and phone calls are taking longer to answer. Workers in the office said they’ve been overloaded with claims, and crime victims said they were struggling to move forward with their lives without the assistance they applied for.