Victim Services Expand Under Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s Bill

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Victim Services Expand Under Queens Pol’s Bill.

The number of crime victims who can receive services from the state expanded this week, after Governor Kathy Hochul signed into law a bill originally introduced by a Queens lawmaker.

This week Hochul signed the bill from Queens Assemblymember Jenifer Rajkumar into law, making victims of crimes of gross reckless endangerment who were not physically injured in the crime eligible for victims services.

Among those services is access to mental health counseling, repayment of lost wages, healthcare and crime scene cleanup reimbursements.

“In New York we believe strongly in protecting and uplifting all victims,” Hochul said in a statement. “This legislative package allows victims that have not been physically injured to still obtain compensation for other impacts of various crimes - taking an important step to help victims seek the justice they deserve."

Under the law, once a person is found guilty in court of gross reckless endangerment – or engaging in conduct that puts others at risk of death, like firing a gun into a crowd or driving on a crowded sidewalk – the victims of that crime who were not physically injured can apply for compensation with the state’s Office of Victim Services.

The agency will then grant the funds on a case-by-case basis. The funds will only be awarded when they are determined to be a means of last resort for the victim, who otherwise wouldn’t be able to cover the expenses of recovering from a crime.

Victims can recoup a maximum of $30,000 in lost wages and can receive up to $2,500 in reimbursement funds for crime scene cleanup – similar figures are dolled out for victims of physical crimes.

“For many families that are struggling, this support is critical at a very difficult moment in their lives,” Rajkumar told the Eagle. “For the first time, victims of reckless endangerment, these non–physical crimes, are actually eligible for these benefits.”

Rajkumar said she first began to see the need for the bill after responding to the scenes of several crimes within her district.

Recently, Rajkumar said she was sitting with a grieving family whose patriarch had been fatally shot outside their home in her district, which covers parts of Ridgewood, Glendale, Woodhaven, Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.

“I saw firsthand the trauma caused by crime,” she said. “I wanted to take action to empower victims of crime to help them get back on their feet.”

She also said that the bill was written in response to the city’s growing crime rate.

This year, six of seven major crimes, including rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny auto, have all increased, some by as much as 40 percent, according to NYPD data.

“One of my top concerns throughout my entire tenure has been public safety in South Queens, and my concern with victims of crimes is especially important because major crimes have spiked,” Rajkumar said.

The bill passed with broad bi-partisan support in the Assembly and passed without a nay vote in the State Senate in May. Hochul signed the bill into law at the end of June.

Prior to the bill’s passage into law, the Office of Victim Services only reimbursed victims of crimes that caused physical harm to the victim.

Covering costs for victims of non-physical crimes isn’t common in most states, though several states have passed laws covering compensation for victims of similar crimes, including Pennsylvania, Connecticut, New Jersey and Vermont.