Whitehouse & Reed Support Legislative Fix to Restore Funding for RI Crime Victim Advocacy Organizations
Bipartisan legislation will strengthen Victims of Crime Act by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund is funded; VOCA victim assistance grant awards in RI went from more than $11 million in FY2018 to $5.6 million in FY2020
Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) and Jack Reed (D-RI) have joined a bipartisan coalition to introduce legislation that will strengthen the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) is funded. The legislation will redirect monetary penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements into the CVF to increase funding for local victim compensation and assistance programs in Rhode Island and across the country.
“As a former prosecutor, I know the value of providing timely, compassionate support to people who have been victims of violent crimes,” said Senator Whitehouse, a senior member of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a former Rhode Island Attorney General and U.S. Attorney. “There are organizations in Rhode Island doing heroic work every day to help victims overcome trauma and move forward. This fix will replenish one of the main funding streams for those groups, allowing important services to be restored.”
“VOCA funding is absolutely critical to supporting victims of crimes and delivering essential services to those in need. I have seen firsthand the life changing impact this funding has in Rhode Island, whether it is through organizations like Day One, the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, or others. Criminals should pay, justice must be served, and the law needs to be updated to ensure victims of crime receive the wide-ranging support they need. This bipartisan bill would help ensure that they do,” said Senator Reed.
VOCA established the CVF, which provides grant funding for state victim compensation and assistance programs. Grants are awarded to states, local governments, individuals, and other entities by the Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime. The CVF does not receive appropriated funding; instead, it receives most money through deposits from criminal fines. As a result, deposits fluctuate annually based on cases that the Justice Department prosecutes. Deposits into the CVF 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, not the CVF.
Due to the rapidly diminishing balance in the CVF, victim services are already being slashed in states across the country, and some programs and services may see close to a 100 percent cut within two years if Congress does not act. Grant awards to states already decreased in both Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 and FY2020, and victims in rural and smaller jurisdictions will be particularly affected by the cuts. In Rhode Island, VOCA victim assistance grant awards went from more than $11 million in FY2018 to $5.7 million in FY2020.
“Last year, Day One, the only agency in Rhode Island whose primary mission is to respond to sexual abuse and violence, dealt with devastating cuts to our VOCA funded programs. These cuts included vital services to victims of sex trafficking, clients in need of clinical services, victims needing access to our 24 hour helpline services, and our nationally recognized Children’s Advocacy Center,” said Peg Langhammer, Executive Director of Day One. “As the leader in the response to, and innovative policies for victims of sexual violence in Rhode Island, we support and applaud Senator Sheldon Whitehouse for his leadership on the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act. As leaders in the response to sexual assault in Rhode Island, VOCA funding is vital to providing services and comprehensive support to thousands of children and adults. At a time when the country and our state are struggling with a global pandemic and increased reports of child sexual violence, this VOCA Fix will help ensure services will be available to those who desperately need them. Thank you, Senator Whitehouse, for your leadership and your advocacy on behalf of victims of sexual violence.”
“For survivors of domestic abuse, the COVID-19 pandemic layers a crisis over another crisis. Over the last months, we have been seeing spikes in the demand for our services for victims of domestic violence and their families with record-breaking numbers,” said Tonya King Harris, Executive Director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “This legislation to strengthen the Victims of Crime Act and preserve the Crime Victims Fund comes at a crucial moment. Through improvements to critical funding for programs like the CVF and the array of supportive services made possible through the VOCA, we can continue serving individuals with the most urgent, life-threatening needs right now: Victims of domestic and sexual violence.”
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 legislation would also increase funding for Rhode Island’s Crime Victim Compensation Fund.
Changes in the bill include:
- Directing criminal settlements from Federal non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, which are currently deposited into the General Treasury, into the CVF (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 CVF over the next few years);
- Increasing the percentage that state compensation programs are reimbursed by the federal government from 60 to 75 percent;
- Allowing states to apply for a no-cost extension for VOCA assistance grants;
- Giving states the ability to waive subgrantee match requirements for VOCA assistance grants; and
- Providing additional flexibility for state victim compensation programs to provide compensation for victims, even if they do not interact with law enforcement.
The bill is also sponsored by Senators Dick Durbin (D-IL), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
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