By Wicked Local Staff | September 1, 2020
Attorney General Maura Healey recently led a coalition of state and territorial attorneys general representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories urging Congress to adopt key changes to the Victims of Crime Act that could provide financial support to victims of violent crimes and their families.
In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the attorneys general call on Congress to adopt changes to the Crime Victims Fund, a national fund that supports state victims’ services programs. The recommendations will stabilize the fund’s finances and provide more flexibility to grantees who are providing services to victims and their families.
“This fund provides critical support to tens of thousands of victims of violent crime and their families, which may be their only financial support through an incredibly difficult time,” said Healey. “Congress needs to act to protect the stability of this fund and to allow us to keep providing these important services.”
“The critical services funded by VOCA provide victims and survivors across this commonwealth and each state opportunities to be safe and heal from violence,” said Liam Lowney, executive director of MOVA. “The current national pandemic has left those impacted by violence even more isolated requiring creative and new responses to meet their needs. I am grateful that attorney general Healey and every AG in the nation is advocating for Congress to enact changes that will ensure VOCA funding is available to meet survivors’ needs now and in the years ahead.”
The fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, is the primary funding source for victim services in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. Deposits to the fund originate from criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties and special assessments collected by U.S. attorneys’ offices, federal courts and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The fund covers the expenses of essential direct services and support for victims and survivors in the aftermath of crime, including medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, courtroom advocacy and temporary housing.
The financial health of the Crime Victims Fund is at risk. In 2015, Congress increased the cap on distributions to the fund, potentially allowing 2.5 million more victims to receive support. According to the letter, while “deposits have sharply decreased in recent years due to a decline in the fines and penalties recouped from federal criminal cases, withdrawals have increased at a rapid pace.”
The coalition makes three recommendations to promote the sustainability of the fund and preserve access to programs and services: redirect fines and fees from corporate deferred and non-prosecution agreements to the fund, increase the rate of federal reimbursement to states for victim compensation programs and extend the amount of time VOCA funds can be spent.
The Department of Justice increasingly uses deferred and non-prosecution agreements to resolve corporate misconduct. The attorneys general ask Congress to redirect these deposits to the fund. In 2018 and 2019, recoveries resulting from these agreements were about $8 billion each year.
The fund currently reimburses state programs that provide financial assistance to victims at a rate of 60%, the remainder usually being funded by fines and fees in state courts. The letter recommends Congress reimburse state programs at a rate of 75%.
VOCA requires recipients to spend grants within a four-year period. The coalition asks Congress to extend the period of funding so that state and local organizations can better plan and predict funding for long-term services.
The attorney general’s office provides direct support for victims and survivors through the office’s Victim Compensation and Assistance Division, which is funded in part by the Crime Victims Fund. In Fiscal Year 2018, VCAD received over 2,000 requests for financial assistance from people impacted by violent crimes, approved over 1,500 claims and distributed more than $3.7 million in financial support to victims and their families. The attorney general’s office recently created a webpage at https://bit.ly/3jojk7g that compiles resources, services and support available for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault during the COVID-19 health crisis — and encourages survivors of violence to safely use these resources if needed.
MOVA is an independent state agency that seeks to uphold and advance the rights of crime victims and witnesses throughout the commonwealth of Massachusetts. In Massachusetts, VOCA assistance funding supports 127 programs throughout the state and provides a variety of services. Direct services include information and referrals, personal advocacy, shelter and housing services, assistance navigating the criminal justice system, emotional support and safety planning. In Fiscal Year 2019, VOCA dollars served over 74,000 individuals in Massachusetts for direct services related to their victimization. In addition to providing essential services, VOCA assistance funds supported over 1,000 full-time equivalent paid staff positions in the same reporting period. MOVA provides grant funding, training and support to victim service programs throughout the state. Healey is chair of the Victim and Witness Assistance Board, MOVA’s governing board.
The letter was led by the state attorneys general of Massachusetts and Montana and is joined by Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The National Association of Attorneys General also played a key role in facilitating this letter.
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