The plummeting balance in the federal crime victims fund is raising alarm among states, Ohio Capital Journal advocates

The plummeting balance in the federal crime victims fund is raising alarm among states, Ohio Capital Journal advocates

WASHINGTON — States and local organizations that help victims of sexual assault and other crimes are sounding the alarm about a multi-year dip in funding, a major problem they say Congress must solve quickly or programs will be forced to create waiting lists or victimize all gone.

Affected are rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, child protection centers and more that serve millions of Americans and cannot necessarily rely on scarce state or local dollars to keep their doors open when federal money falls short.

The problem involves a cap on withdrawals from the federal Crime Victims Fund, which Congress put in place years ago in an earlier attempt at a solution.

Under the cap, the amount of money available each year is determined by a complex three-year average of the court costs, fines and penalties that have piled up — a number that has plummeted by billions over the past six years. The fund does not receive any tax money.

Teresa Huizar, CEO of the National Children’s Alliance, said in an interview with States Newsroom that child advocacy centers, which connect children who have survived sexual or domestic violence with essential services, have run out of money to cut their budgets.

“What child advocacy centers are really looking at now is a series of extremely difficult choices,” Huizar said. “Which children should we serve, which children should we reject? CACs that previously never had to review cases will now have to do so. CACs that never had a mental health waiting list will now have long, long waiting lists to get kids into therapy.”

“I mean, imagine being a child who has been sexually abused and being told you have to wait six months before seeing a counselor,” Huizar added. “It’s terrible.”

Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, chair of the spending panel that sets the cap each year based on declining revenues, and Republican Sen. Jerry Moran of Kansas, the subcommittee’s ranking member, both gave brief interviews with States Newsroom indicates that there is a solution. in the works, but declined to provide details.

“There is an effort to address this and we are working on that, but in the meantime there is not that much money,” Shaheen said.

The fund rises and falls by billions every year

Congress established the Crime Victims Fund in 1984 when it passed the Victims of Crime Act. Funding comes from fines, forfeited bonds and other financial penalties in certain federal cases.

The money flowing into the fund fluctuates every year, making it difficult for the organizations that apply for and receive grants to plan their budgets. Congress hoped to alleviate these boom-and-bust cycles by placing an annual limit on the amount of money that can be taken from the crime victims fund.

But that limit has been sharply reduced recently, causing frustration among organizations that rely on it and leading to repeated calls for Congress to find a long-term solution.

The cap remained below $1 billion per year until fiscal year 2015, when it spiked to $2.3 billion before reaching a high of $4.4 billion in fiscal year 2018.

The annual cap then fell by more than $1 billion, beginning a downward trend, according to a report from the Congressional Research Service and data from the Justice Department.

The cap was set at $2 billion in fiscal year 2021, rising to $2.6 billion in fiscal year 2022 and then declining to $1.9 billion in fiscal year 2023.

Congress set the cap on withdrawals at $1.2 billion for the 2024 budget year when it approved the latest round of appropriations in March, and states and localities have reacted with concern to the prospect of such a dramatic cut. In Iowa, for example, where the state receives $5 million a year, the potential loss of funding was a key question as lawmakers wrote their budget for judicial services.

Looking for a better solution

Congress passed legislation in 2021 to increase federal lawsuit revenue going to the crime victims fund, but advocates say a longer-term response is needed.

Huizar said the National Children’s Alliance, state attorneys general and organizations that combat domestic and sexual violence have urged Congress to fix or supplement the funding stream to provide stability and consistency.

“Now is the time for Congress to urgently address this issue if they do not want the safety net for children and families and victims of serious crimes to simply fall apart,” Huizar said.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers — Reps. Stephanie Bice, R-Okla., Jim Costa, D-Calif., Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., Nathaniel Moran, R-Texas and Ann Wagner, R-Mo. – introduced legislation that would transfer unobligated funds collected from entities that defraud the federal government under the False Claims Act to the Crime Victims Fund. The law is an important tool that the federal government uses to combat fraud.

That bill is not a long-term solution but a “temporary infusion of resources,” according to a summary released by lawmakers.

As for the Senate appropriators, Moran said he and others on the expenditure subcommittee are “awaiting the Judiciary Committee’s examination of the matter so that we can adopt the approvers’ suggestions and take them into account when appropriate .”

Josh Sorbe, a spokesman for the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, wrote in a statement that “the sustainability of the CVF is extremely important, as evidenced by Sen. Durbin’s work on the VOCA Fix introduced in 2021 was passed, and we continue to work with our colleagues, survivor advocates and service providers to explore further ways to strengthen the CVF.”

Shaheen’s office did not provide details on what changes may be in the pipeline, following multiple requests from States Newsroom.

Should taxpayer money be siphoned off?

National District Attorneys Association President Charles Smith said his organization supports the House bill, but noted that one problem with the short-term solution is that the crime victims fund would be last in line to receive the additional income.

“I believe the government gets its money first, the whistleblower gets it second and then we’re in third place,” Smith said.

One battle over fluctuating revenues and available funding, according to Smith, is the debate over whether taxpayer money should be used to offset low balances.

“We need to set a number that everyone is happy with, so to speak, and fund it through available sources,” Smith said. “But if there is a shortage, there has to be a mechanism for it to come out of the general fund.”

The Crime Victims Fund is essential for witness coordinators and victim support coordinators in prosecutor’s offices and other crime survivor services.

“They are critical to the well-being of the victim and often they are critical to the witness, even if he shows up and testifies,” said Smith, who is also the state’s attorney for Frederick County, Maryland.

The organizations that support crime victims, such as child protection centers, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, are crucial for prosecutors, Smith said.

“Not only will we be directly affected by a loss of staff and resources, but many of the partner agencies we rely on to work with will also be affected,” Smith said of the funding cap reduction.

‘Real alarm’ in states

Karrie Delaney, director of federal affairs for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, said the slowdown in lawsuits during the COVID-19 pandemic and the last administration not prosecuting as many corporate cases has impacted the fund more than usual .

RAINN is the largest organization against sexual violence in the country. It operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800-656-HOPE) with local organizations and operates the Department of Defense Safe Helpline. It also “runs programs to prevent sexual violence, help survivors and ensure perpetrators are brought to justice,” according to its website.

“I think what’s important from RAINN’s perspective is the actual impact these fluctuations have on the survivors we support and on organizations and service providers across the country,” Delaney said.

When the federal limit decreases, she says, organizations that support crime victims often turn to state and local governments to close the gap. And often there isn’t enough money to do that.

“What we’ve seen in the United States is a real alarming thought that the coming budget cuts are not only impacting the ability of these organizations to provide certain services, but also to actually keep their doors open,” Delaney said .

Child protection centers, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, Delaney added, are the “real organizations on the ground helping people in times of very active crises who are at risk of having their programs drastically curtailed to the point where service leaves much to be desired.” endangered.”

If you are the victim of a crime, there are free text and online hotlines available. There is a list from the Crime Victims Office here. You can also find help in your country here.