Ensure Sufficient Funding for Crime Victims
For victims and survivors of crime, the costs can be catastrophic. Physical and psychological injuries often linger in the form of medical bills, lost wages, and expensive counseling. Without assistance, many survivors find that navigating the criminal justice system leaves them feeling re-victimized. But with the timely delivery of critical services and financial support, victims and survivors of crime can begin to rebuild their lives. The primary funding source for victim services nationwide is the Crime Victims Fund (CVF), created by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA). Deposits to the CVF originate from fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties, and special assessments—not taxpayer dollars—that are collected by federal prosecutors, federal courts, and the federal Bureau of Prisons. In recent years, Congress has taken steps to maximize the benefits that victims and survivors receive through the CVF. In 2014, for example, Congress lifted an annual cap on distributions from the account, allowing more money to be used for its intended purpose each year. During the following year, nearly 2,500 new organizations received VOCA funding through their state administering agency. By 2018, when the fund distributed a record high $4.4 billion, more than 4 million new people were served compared to numbers in 2015. While these additional dollars have provided vital services for victims, the practice of relying solely upon fines, fees, and penalties to fund the CVF is inherently risky. Deposits are projected to drop in coming years, as is the cap on annual distributions from the fund. Significant volatility creates uncertainty for providers and those receiving assistance. The surge in service delivery from 2015 to 2018 shows the demand for vital victim services that went unmet at lower funding levels. States and service providers are unable to scale up their operations without confidence in sustained funding levels. To stabilize economic support for crime victims, the Task Force recommends changing how the CVF is funded, administered, and prioritized. In particular, the recommendations call for: appropriation of general fund dollars to meet a guaranteed minimum level of funding; a greater emphasis on services to people suffering trauma from urban violence; and, in recognition of research demonstrating that many perpetrators are also victims, eliminating barriers to services for people who have been convicted of crimes.
Congress should reform how it funds the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) and ensure the fund’s long-term solvency and meaningful impact for people in communities most affected by violent crime.
- Stabilize funding in the CVF to assure that 75 percent of the current annual cap level is maintained by making an appropriation of general fund dollars in years during which the fund balance falls below necessary levels;
- Require that increased levels of VOCA funding be directed to organizations that encourage innovation and diversification to venues outside the justice system (i.e. hospitals and schools), with priority to programs that deliver trauma-informed and victim-centered services and culturally competent care in communities most impacted by crime and violence, and by clarifying what categories of survivors qualify as “underserved;”
- Prioritize victims of urban violence through an expansion of services to this targeted population to reduce violence;
- Prohibit state compensation programs from denying benefits based on a victim's conviction history;
- Change the federal VOCA compensation formula to support the sustainability of state compensation programs by: increasing the formulaic basis for which compensation grants are calculated from 60% to 75%, creating a base allocation for each state and adding the 60% formula based on a state’s investment to that base, and/or changing the formula calculation to allow states to receive 60% of total annual expenses, not just state expenses;
- Allow states to award up to 10% of VOCA assistance funds to compensation program for victim benefits;
- Increase the 5% cap on operations and administration to 10%, ensuring that State Administrative Agencies have adequate resources to train and assist community-based organizations in the application process and provide fiscal oversight;
- Increase the statutory spending timeframe for state awards, allowing for more sustainable planning and fewer funding fluctuations for local agencies;
- Deposit monetary penalties derived from deferred and non-prosecution agreements into the CVF;
- Require that 15% of civil fines and fees be allocated to the fund to stabilize a consistent funding stream for the support of victims;
- Authorize the Department of Justice (DOJ) to change the federal VOCA compensation formula to support the sustainability of state compensation programs; and
- Provide guidance to restructure requirements for DOJ grants to states.
Sacco, Lisa N. The Crime Victims Fund: Federal Support for Victims of Crime. Congressional Research Service. 27 October 2015. https://fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/R42672.pdf “… there is no guarantee that receipts going into the CVF will be consistent from one year to the next. Therefore, if Congress were to further increase the cap and use funding from the CVF for non-VOCA programs, it is not possible to ensure that there will be a consistent level of funding to support these programs in future budget cycles.”
Sword, Doug. “Shrinking victims fund signals tough times for appropriators.” Roll Call, 21 March 2019, https://www.rollcall.com/2019/03/21/shrinking-victims-fund-signals-tough-times-for-appropriators/ “It’s been an unspoken rule among appropriators for years: if the annual Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee allocation feels a little light, fear not. There’s always money in the Crime Victims Fund. However, the good times may be coming to an end. The program’s finances are drying up, and the Appropriations Committees are facing major new obligations in fiscal 2020 that will stretch the means of panel leaders even if there’s a deal to lift austere spending caps for next year.”
Sered, Danielle and Bridgette Butler. “Expanding the Reach of Victim Services: Maximizing the Potential of VOCA Funding for Underserved Survivors.” Vera Institute of Justice. August 2016. https://www.vera.org/downloads/publications/expanding-the-reach-of-victim-services-voca-updated.pdf Despite incredible work in expanding the use of these funds, “victims of certain crimes and from certain backgrounds are too often left out.” These excluded classes are comprised of immigrants; young people of color; people with disabilities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer people; and other historically marginalized communities. In order to close this gap, certain misperceptions regarding crime victims must be addressed. For example, “young men of color are among the most likely to be crime victims in the United States.” Nevertheless, men of color “are virtually unrepresented among recipients of victim services.” In order to remedy this inequity, VOCA providers “should dedicate time and resources to make an affirmative effort to reach new providers and populations,” and the application process for receiving compensation should be streamlined and include detailed guidance for applicants.
Warnken, Heather and Janet L. Lauritsen. “Who Experiences Violent Victimization and Who Accesses Services? Findings from the National Crime Victimization Survey for Expanding Our Reach.” Center for Victim Research. April 2019. https://ncvc.dspacedirect.org/bitstream/item/1270/CVR%20Article_Who%20Experiences%20Violent%20Victimization%20and%20Who%20Accesses%20Services.pdf?sequence=1 “This analysis is intended to use the [National Crime Victimization Survey] data in ways that provide more detail than that which is available in the annual reports, and that speak to pertinent questions that victim assistance funders, policymakers and practitioners face. This report shares findings about who is at greatest risk for serious violence and who are most and least likely to access services, with special emphasis placed on issues of race, ethnicity, gender, age, income and place. Perhaps most importantly, it takes into account multiple risk factors simultaneously, more reflective of the many factors that can have an impact on an individual survivor’s experience and life.”
Santo, Alysia. “States Have Millions of Dollars to Help Victims of Crime, But Seven Ban Aid for People with Criminal Records.” The Marshall Project, 13 September 2018, https://www.themarshallproject.org/2018/09/13/the-victims-who-don-t-count Seven states bar people with a criminal record from receiving victim compensation. For example, in Florida, a man whose father was murdered and sought compensation to assist with the funeral was denied access to the fund because his father had committed a robbery as a young man. It did not matter that the City of Sarasota had called him a “prominent citizen,” that he had not committed any crimes in the 30 years thereafter, and that his son had not committed any crimes. There is a significant racial component involved in this prior criminal history prohibition: in Florida, “about 30 percent of people who listed their race when applying for victim compensation in 2015 and 2016 were black. But black applicants made up 61 percent of people denied aid for having a criminal record.” Critically, this limitation was designed to ensure the solvency of these funds, but those in Florida and Ohio “routinely close out the year with lots of leftover cash.” Currently Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, Ohio, North Carolina, and Rhode Island bar previously convicted offenders from access to the fund.