08.18.21

Reed & Whitehouse Celebrate Legislative Fix to Restore Funding for RI Crime Victim Advocacy Organizations

New law passed with bipartisan support will strengthen Victims of Crime Act by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund is funded; VOCA victim assistance grant awards in RI reduced from more than $11 million in FY2018 to $5.6 million in FY2020

Warwick, RI – U.S. Senators Jack Reed and Sheldon Whitehouse today joined with organizations that help Rhode Islanders who have been victims of violent crimes to celebrate passage of bipartisan legislation that will strengthen the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund is funded. Both senators sponsored the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021, which will redirect monetary penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements into the Crime Victims Fund to provide an additional estimated $4-7 billion in non-taxpayer money for victim compensation and assistance programs in Rhode Island and across the country over the next few years. Today’s event took place at the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, which serves individuals and families affected by domestic violence and sexual assault.

“VOCA is a lifeline that allows states to provide vital assistance to innocent victims of serious crimes at no cost to taxpayers. I have seen firsthand the life changing impact this funding has had in Rhode Island, whether it is through organizations like the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Day One, or others. I am pleased we were able to get bipartisan support to improve and sustain the Crime Victims Fund,” said Senator Reed.

“Organizations in Rhode Island are doing heroic work every day to help crime victims overcome trauma and move forward,” said Senator Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former Rhode Island Attorney General and U.S. Attorney. “We were able to pass a bipartisan legislative fix to replenish one of the main funding streams for those organizations, which will restore important services that have been cut in recent years.”

In June, Whitehouse attempted to force a vote on the legislation but was blocked by a Republican senator’s objection. The bill eventually passed the Senate on July 20 by unanimous consent.

Congress passed VOCA in 1984, creating the Crime Victims Fund to provide federal support to state and local programs that assist victims of crime. The Crime Victims Fund does not receive appropriated funding; instead, it receives most money through deposits from criminal fines. Deposits into the Crime Victims Fund are historically low, and the decrease is due in large part to greater use of deferred prosecutions and non-prosecution agreements. Monetary penalties associated with these prosecutions are currently deposited into the General Treasury rather than the Crime Victims Fund. In Rhode Island, VOCA victim assistance grant awards were reduced from more than $11 million in FY2018 to $5.7 million in FY2020.

The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021, which President Biden signed into law last month, will redirect monetary penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements into the Crime Victims Fund to increase funding for local victim compensation and assistance programs in Rhode Island and across the country.

Tonya King Harris, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence said, “The VOCA Fix bill is a victory for survivors of domestic and sexual violence nationwide, restoring critical funding for life-saving services and programs serving Rhode Islanders with the most urgent, life-threatening needs. Thanks to this legislation’s passage, made possible by the support and advocacy of Senator Whitehouse, Senator Reed and the R.I. congressional delegation, our local domestic violence shelters and agencies supporting survivors in our state will eventually be able to hire back advocates and restore programs that were previously eliminated by cuts in federal VOCA funding. We are grateful for the commitment of Senator Whitehouse and Senator Reed in supporting survivors and their families, ensuring this crucial bill was passed as soon as possible to empower victims of abuse in their journey to safety. This legislation and associated funding saves lives.”

“VOCA grants are the primary source of federal funding victim service providers across the country, including programs serving victims of sexual violence, domestic violence, child abuse, and sex trafficking. The passage of this critical piece of legislation fixes the tragically low funding levels in the Crime Victims Fund, and sets it on a sustainable path to ensure funds are available to serve all victims of crime, including the children and families we see at Day One,” said Peg Langhammer, Executive Director of Day One. “We thank our elected officials across the country, especially our Rhode Island delegation who have always been partners and champions of our issues, as they have finally been able to pass this much needed fix. The VOCA Fix Act truly is a victory for all survivors!”

“Sojourner House was relieved and grateful to see the VOCA Fix legislation signed into law with so much bipartisan support,” said Vanessa Volz, Sojourner House’s Executive Director. “As we have eight separate VOCA-funded projects, which include providing emergency interventions to victims of human trafficking, legal advocacy to undocumented victims of abuse, support to the LGBTQ+ community, and shelter and housing to families at risk of homelessness, these funds will fill critical gaps to ensure that we can continue to meet the demand for our lifesaving services.”

The more than a dozen organizations receiving VOCA funding in Rhode Island provide staffed drop-in centers, trauma services, emergency shelter, transitional housing, group counseling, individual therapy, law enforcement advocacy, grief counseling, transportation, protective services, medical services, behavioral health services, and court advocacy for restraining orders for victims and their children, among other services. This new law will also increase funding for Rhode Island’s Crime Victim Compensation Fund.

The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act will:

• Direct criminal settlements from Federal non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, which are currently deposited into the General Treasury, into the Crime Victims Fund (known as the “deposits fix,” this change would be the most significant and could make an additional $4-$7 billion of non-taxpayer money available to the Fund over the next few years);

• Increase the percentage that state compensation programs are reimbursed by the federal government from 60 to 75 percent;

• Allow states to apply for a no-cost extension for VOCA assistance grants;

• Give states the ability to waive subgrantee match requirements for VOCA assistance grants; and

• Provide additional flexibility for state victim compensation programs to provide compensation for victims, even if they do not interact with law enforcement.