U.S. Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Santa Barbara, and local district attorneys are urging the Senate to pass a bill adding a new source of revenue for the Crime Victims Fund.
The Crime Victims Fund was established to provide funding for victim compensation for things like medical bills, lost wages, funeral costs and victim support programs.
Currently, the Crime Victims Fund is funded through deposits from federal criminal fines from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, and that revenue is deposited into the general fund of the Treasury, meaning the balance can vary depending on the cases the Justice Department prosecutes.
The fund’s balance has diminished in recent years due to greater use of deferred prosecutions and non-prosecution agreements, so the bill local officials are advocating for — the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 — requires the Department of Justice to redirect criminal settlements from non-prosecution and deferred prosecutions into the Crime Victims Fund, which would make an additional $4 to $7 billion available for crime victims over the next few years.
“The Crime Victims Fund gives local governments the ability to support and compensate the innocent victims of crime. Despite serving as a critical lifeline, this program has been severely underfunded for years,” Rep. Carbajal said in a statement. “This commonsense fix has garnered bipartisan support, allows us to continue helping those harmed by crime and doesn’t cost taxpayers a dime. I implore my Senate colleagues to take up this bill and provide crime victims with the help they need and deserve.”
The bill increases the percentage — from 60% to 75% — of state compensation payments to crime victims in the prior fiscal year used to calculate formula grants for state victim compensation programs. It also directs states to waive the 20% matching requirement for recipients of state victim assistance formula grants during and for one year after a pandemic-related national emergency.
Joyce Dudley, Santa Barbara County’s district attorney, told the News-Press that her office relies upon $1.9 million from VOCA money in competitive grant dollars to serve the most vulnerable populations countywide.
“Funding has allowed our Victim Witness Assistance Program to provide trauma-informed services to human trafficking, sexual assault, domestic violence, elder and dependent adult abuse and vulnerable child abuse victims who otherwise would be left to navigate the criminal process alone and without support,” Ms. Dudley said. “Each year, our advocates help over 4,000 victims and provide compensation assistance via VOCA funding.”
If passed, the bill would: allow states to request a no-cost extension from the Attorney General to ensure states can thoughtfully and effectively distribute victim service grants without being penalized; instruct the Office for Victims of Crime not to deduct restitution payments recovered by state victim compensation funds when calculating victim compensation awards; and provide flexibility for state compensation programs to waive the requirement to promote victim cooperation with law enforcement if good cause is established by the program.
Ms. Dudley echoed the fact that the funding is not taxpayer money; rather, the funding is fines and penalties levied against federal offenders.
“The cornerstone of public safety is providing high quality, empathetic service to those affected by violent crime,” the district attorney said. “Without ongoing funding support, victims would languish emotionally and financially with untold costs to our society as a whole.”
The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 passed the House on March 17 and now awaits Senate deliberation.