After a tragedy, folks often gather to find ways to help out those who have suffered, any way they can. At one time, we probably would have baked casseroles for each other and planned a church service. Today, one of the things that I've noticed happening is that folks set up a Go Fund Me account to help cover medical or funeral expenses.
These accounts often raise funds for the victims and may be helpful. However, I am concerned that sometimes they may not be as effective as other ways to help the victim or their families. In fact, in some situations, the accounts may cause further harm to the family.
Other public funds may be available, along with important services. I’m often troubled by gofundme.com accounts (and similarly structured fund raising efforts) since well intended family members may know more about these types of efforts, but may be overlooking other funds created for crime victims. In West Virginia funds are available for funeral and burial expenses for crime victims. They are also able to be reimbursed for medical expenses. Additionally, the statute in West Virginia requires that service providers suspend collection costs when someone applies for these funds.
The gofundme.com proceeds could harm the victim or the victim's family in the long run. When they focus on these funds, the victim and the the victim's family may loose out on some of the funds available to them. The fund raising efforts may seems like they help, especially along with funds from a church or other charity, but they may not help and could be harmful. Why?
- All of the money won't go to the family! The go fund me folks may take as much as 7.9% plus 30 cents on each donation. That adds up quickly, and it means that people are unnecessarily contributing money to funeral expenses that profits ‘go fund me’ and not the family.
- The family may be taxed for the proceeds. While many go fund me accounts are classified as gifts and are not taxed, other users have reported that the person setting up the account has received a 1099 form from the fundraising account saying that it is income. Others report that the income is attributed to the recipient who must then address whether or not the funds constitute income or a gift. http://www.abcactionnews.com/news/region-tampa/tax-warning-gofundme-donations-can-cost-you-a-big-tax-bill
- The family may become ineligible for Medicaid, SSD or SSI If the person setting up the account or the recipient receives any public assistance, food stamps, social security disability, Medicaid or insurance subsidy, these funds could cause that person to lose their benefit. This could be a terrible outcome in situations where the crime victim has substantial medical bills and could lose Medicaid or CHIPS coverage due to the income.
Yes, you want to help! After the terrible tragedies, such as mass shootings, we see the news and social media reports and want to help. The best way to help a friend who has been a victim of crime is to help your friend locate experts in your community who work with crime victims to create a broad way to respond to the specific needs of the crime victim without causing more harm or hardship on the family.
Our office works with crime victims to help them apply for crime victim funds in West Virginia. If you are in another state, most prosecutor’s offices have a victim advocate.
Please contract the prosecutor in the county where the victim lives and ask to set up an appointment with that person to find out what the resources are and available and to understand what that office can do to help the victim or the victim’s family get though a rough time. National resources are available through https://victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/national-hotlines-and-helpful-links.