Ensure that amounts collected for the Crime Victims Fund are released for their intended purpose, at levels necessary to meet the needs of crime victims and reduce the impact of victimization on individuals and society.
The principal support for crime victim services is the Crime Victims Fund, also called the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fund. This fund, comprised of fines and penalties on federal offenders, had grown to nearly $13 billion by 2014. Yet, until this year, Congress released only a small portion each year, leaving too many victims of crime unserved.
As part of the FY 2015 appropriations legislation, Congress released $2.3 billion in VOCA funds, most of which will be used at the state level to expand direct services to victims. This funding will provide an opportunity for existing programs—including programs serving victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, or child abuse—to reduce or eliminate their waiting lists for shelter and counseling. It will also allow states to create new services for underserved victims, including trafficking victims, victims who are elderly or have disabilities, fraud victims, survivors of homicide victims, and many other victims of crime. The funding would also allow states to create culturally or ethnically specific services for immigrant victims, African American victims, victims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and other victim populations.
There is a clear need to maintain this higher level of disbursements from the VOCA Fund. Moreover, because average annual deposits into the fund over the past five years have exceeded $2 billion dollars, such disbursement levels are sustainable.
Maintaining the funding level is only one part of the answer to supporting a national response to victims of crime and abuse. Changes must also be made regarding the allocation and spending of this funding.
One such reform relates to the dire need for services for Native American and Alaska Native victims, who suffer extremely high rates of victimization. Currently the VOCA funding formula –unlike the federal Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) grants or formula grants under the Violence Against Women Act—does not contain a separate funding stream for tribal governmental programs. Some provision must be made that allows funding directly from the Department of Justice to tribes as sovereign entities.
Another limitation on the use of the Crime Victims Fund concerns the authority of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) to make discretionary grants. OVC’s current discretionary grant-making authority is limited to support for victims of federal crimes, training and technical assistance efforts, and demonstration projects. Meanwhile, there is a need for certain long-term programs that support victims on a national level, or Americans victimized abroad. Such programs might include national hotlines or resource centers, or programs for certain populations of victims—those victimized on cruise ships, for example. These projects are unlikely to ever be funded by a given state, because the client base extends far beyond any one state’s residents; expansion of federal spending authority is needed to encompass such victim service programs.
Increased funding for victim services at the state and tribal levels must be coupled with a process to identify underserved victims and gaps in services. A planning process, similar to those required for other federal formula funding for crime and victim services, must be developed that ensures consultation with a range of stakeholders, including tribal consultations with the Department of Justice. It must also take into account other state plans for spending on justice or victim efforts, to better leverage all available funding and increase opportunities for collaboration.
In addition, much of today’s funding for victim services is narrow—provided for a limited time (often one year), for a limited purpose or form of services, to serve a limited group of crime victims. This can increase the administrative burden relating to filing funding requests and tracking and reporting grant activities. The effectiveness of VOCA spending could be improved by increasing flexibility in the use of funding and the creation of longer grant periods.
Increased funding must also involve increased use of outcome measures and evaluation to ensure that dollars are making a difference. However, any requirement that specific outcome measures be used must be adopted carefully, to ensure they align with program objectives. Moreover, measures must be crafted in way that does not overemphasize the volume of victims served. A focus on client volume can create a disincentive to supporting tailored services for smaller populations of marginalized victims, or to support the comprehensive, long-term services that some victims require to recover from crime and abuse.
Therefore, in pursuing our goal of maintaining a high level of distributions from the VOCA Fund, we will also advocate for:
- The creation of a planning requirement for jurisdictions receiving VOCA funding that involves stakeholders and ensures consideration of the range of crime victims and victim services.
- A separate funding stream for tribal victim services that recognizes tribal sovereignty.
- Changes in grant distribution and management that increase effectiveness and reduce administrative burden.
- Changes in OVC’s spending authority to permit the funding of national-level services and services for Americans victimized overseas.