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Advocates Fear Sharp Decline In U.S. Aid To Crime Victim Agencies

Updated: Jan 17, 2023

Crime victim advocates are worried that the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fund, which supports thousands of state and local organizations that help victims, is running out of money.


The fund, created by Congress in a 1984 law, gets its revenues not from tax money but from judgments and settlements in federal criminal court cases.


Because the total in the fund has varied considerably over the years, Congress sets a cap on much aid can be given to state crime victim agencies for distribution.


The massive federal spending bill approved by Congress just before year's end set this cap at $1.795 billion annually, compared with $1.89 billion in the last fiscal year, says the National Criminal Justice Association, which represents state anticrime agencies.


As of Dec. 29, the fund balance was $1.737 billion, short of the amount needed to obligate the cap for the current fiscal year.


Even if the Justice Department's Office for Victims of Crime, which administers the fund, can obtain $163 million during this fiscal year, which ends next September, grants to states may drop by about five percent, estimates Steve Derene, retired executive director of the National Association of Victim Assistance Administrators (NAVAA).


The total deposited in the fund during the last fiscal year was $822 million, far less than the maximum spending amount authorized by Congress.


At this rate, without major deposits, the national fund could dwindle to hardly anything within a few years, Derene says.


The shaky status of the VOCA fund comes as the estimated number of violent crimes in the nation rose last year to about 4.6 million, says the Justice Department's National Crime Victimization Survey.


The current funding trend could prove "disastrous" to crime victim aid programs, says Liam Lowney, the current NAVAA board chairman. Lowney, the executive director of the Massachusetts Office for Victim Assistance, said that the looming federal fund shortage would not likely affect much direct compensation to victims but rather the budgets of state agencies that help victims.


This could mean cuts in agency staff, training, and services to victims beyond compensation, such as temporary housing, transportation and child care, Lowney said.


Lowney says state victim programs already have been trimming their services in anticipation of more cuts from the federal fund. Some agencies have been able to obtain funding from state governments.


Ruth M. Glenn, president of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said that the VOCA Fund's situation in fiscal year 2024, which begins this fall, "will be dire without either a very substantial increase in deposits in the coming year or action by Congress."


The decline in the VOCA Fund balance is due mainly to a steady drop in federal white collar crime prosecutions, which produce the settlements and judgments that sustain the fund. The number of such cases generally has declined since a high in 2011, reaching a record low in January 2019, says the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC) at Syracuse University, which tracks data on federal cases.


The total of such filings dropped about 20 percent in 2022 and are down more than 35 percent from 2017, TRAC says.


Even if the Biden Justice Department eventually files more white collar crime cases than did the Trump administration did, many prosecutions take years to develop and even longer to produce final convictions or settlements.


Another major contributor to the decline in the crime victim fund has been the rise in the number of major white collar crime cases resolved by "deferred prosecution" or "non-prosecution" agreements in which companies agree to pay fines or other penalties in lieu of a criminal prosecution.


Before 2021, such payments went to the general U.S. treasury. A VOCA 'fix" law signed in 2021 by President Biden requires the money paid in such cases into the Crime Victims Fund.

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