On April 21, 2016, the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday marked up its FY 2017 Commerce, Justice and Science (CJS) appropriations bill. The Committee approved a Crime Victims Fund cap at $2.957 billion, which is $85 million less than the FY 2016 cap (but $957 million more than the Administration’s request). As happened in FY 2016, $379 million is transferred to the Office on Violence Against Women for VAWA programs. At its mark up, the Committee adopted an amendment introduced by Sen. Tester (D-MT) to carve out 5 percent of the annual CVF cap for “grants to Indian tribal governments to improve services and justice for victims of crime.”
Although the CJS report says that $2.578 billion will be “disbursed to States,” the Committee fails to include amounts used for other purposes, which includes: $10 million for the DOJ Inspector General’s Office, $85 million estimated for OJP management costs, Children’s Justice Act grants, federal set-asides for U.S. Attorneys, FBI and federal victim notification system, and OVC discretionary grants. It also, understandably, fails to include the $147.85 million that would be earmarked for tribal grants if the Tester amendment is eventually enacted. Thus, the net amount available for state grants (both state crime victim compensation and state victim assistance formula grants) is really closer to $2.138 billion. It is estimated that under the Senate CJS bill FY 2017 state VOCA assistance grants would be about 9 percent less than the amount estimated for the FY 2016 grants.
On February 9, 2016, the Administration released its proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2017. The proposal would release $2 billion from the Crime Victims Fund, one-third less than the $3.042 billion Congress released for FY 2016. In addition, the Administration's proposal would designate a total of $481 million for programs that are not authorized under the VOCA statute, including:
- $326 million transferred to the Office on Violence Against Women;
- $50 million for Vision 21 projects, including $25 million for tribal victim assistance grants;
- $45 million for human trafficking programs; and
- up to 3% or $60 million to the National Institute of Justice and Bureau of Justice Statistics.
In addition, the proposal estimates $85 million for Office of Justice Programs management and administrative costs, leaving $1.4 billion for programs specified under the VOCA statute, compared to the estimated $2.6 billion allocated for these programs in FY 16.
NAVAA supports the policy that the annual VOCA cap be set at the average of the three previous full fiscal years of deposits into the Crime Victims Fund, without any non-VOCA transfers. Using that policy, the FY 2017 cap should be no less than $2.573 billion that would likely result in state VOCA assistance grants at about the same level anticipated for FY 2016. Read the updated 2017 VOCA Backgrounder.
S. 1495: Fairness for Victims of Crime Act of 2015On June 3, 2015, Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) introduced S. 1495, the "Fairness for Crime Victims Act of 2015," which would require that the amount made available from the Crime Victims Fund be no less than average amount deposited into the Fund over the previous three fiscal years. The text of the bill is available here.
In supporting the bill, NAVAA has requested that it be expanded to prohibit use of the Crime Victims Fund for non-VOCA authorized purposes. NAVAA noted that recent proposals would simply transfer amounts out of the Fund for non-VOCA authorized purposes. In a June 22, 2015 letter to Sen. Toomey, NAVAA says that these "backdoor" carve outs undermine Congress's longstanding commitment that the Fund be used only for VOCA authorized programs. "Once this door is opened," NAVAA's letter states, "there is no looking back from using the Fund for these or any other purpose, including programs that may have nothing to do with assisting crime victims."
NAVAA Congratulates Congress on Increased VOCA cap
NAVAA released the following statement regarding the increase in the VOCA cap as part of the FY 15 appropriations bill:
We congratulate Congress on taking an unprecedented, positive step in meeting the critical needs of our nation’s crime victims. As part of the 2015 appropriations bill, Congress more than tripled the annual amount of non-taxpayer money released from a special fund that helps crime victims.
Created as part of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA), the Crime Victims Fund is made up entirely of fines and other monetary penalties paid by Federal criminal offenders, not by taxpayers. The money is then distributed to a variety of programs that help victims of all types of crimes, most of which is passed through state agencies to thousands of local programs that assist victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, families of homicide victims, victims of drunk driving crashes and other violent crimes.
“The money that has been deposited into the Crime Victims Fund has reached historic levels,” according to NAVAA President Robert Gallup. “Since 2000, however, Congress has limited the amount made available to support these important programs. Thanks to the recognition by Congressional appropriators of the need for more victim assistance services, Congress raised the annual cap to a level that will bring counseling, emergency shelter, and assistance in participating in the criminal justice system and other crucial support to millions of additional victims of all types of crimes.”
The National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators (NAVAA) represents the state agencies that pass through these federal funds to local nonprofit and public agencies serving crime victims. Every state, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands and U.S. territories all share in the use of these victim assistance funds. VOCA victim assistance grants awarded through these state agencies have annually support about 4,000 local programs that help approximately 3.5 million crime victims.
“Thanks to the efforts of the U.S. Justice Department, U.S. Attorneys, FBI and other federal law enforcement agencies, the amount of criminal fines deposited into the Crime Victims Fund has increased tremendously in recent years. This has now allowed Congress to raise the cap on annual VOCA funding. This will translate into a major increase in our nation’s capacity to help crime victims without the use of any tax dollars,” said NAVAA Executive Director Steve Derene. “This presents all of us – state administrators and local service providers—with a tremendous opportunity and challenge to continue to effectively serve victims of all types of crimes,” Derene said.
VOCA and the Crime Victims Fund are administered at the federal level by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U. S. Department of Justice.
The annual cap on VOCA funding in fiscal year 2014 was $745 million. The new funding level for fiscal year 2015 will jump to $2.361 billion. Because these non-taxpayer dollars have already been collected and deposited into the Fund, VOCA funding does not add to the nation’s debt or deficit.
Major changes coming for VOCA victim assistance programs
Thanks to the recent significant increase in annual VOCA cap, state VOCA victim assistance grants in FY 15 will be 4 times the amount awarded the previous year. This increase presents numerous opportunities to greatly expand the capacity of the nation's victim service providers to meet the critical needs of victims of all types of crimes. Along with the increased funding comes increased scruntiny and accountability. Congress has provided the Justice Department's Inspector General with $10 million to audit and monitor the expansion of VOCA funding.
In response to the increase, state VOCA assistance programs have been engaged with stakeholders in identifying and prioritizing the needs in their states. Many states have begun strategic planning activities, conducted surveys, needs assessments and focus groups. These expansions will mean that many thousands of new victim advocates, counselors and other direct victim service providers will be hired and trained to provide high quality services to crime victims. Thanks to special funding from OVC, states will be awarded additional funding to provide essential training to victim service staff.
In addition to the increased funding, other changes to VOCA victim assistance programs are forthcoming. This includes the final promulgation of new regulations. The current VOCA assistance Guidelines were adopted in 1997 and the new regulations will update and expand upon those rules. It is expected the new regulations will be published and take effect sometime in the Fall of 2015.
Finally, OVC has been developing new data/performance measurement collection and reporting requirements for VOCA assisatance programs. (They have already issued new performance measurement requirements for state crime victim compensation programs). The new requirements will become effective in October 2015 and will require considerable changes to state and subgrantees' data collection systems.