Toomey Fights for Allocations to Crime Victim Fund

Several Republican senators are moving forward with plans to try to further limit the use in the appropriations process of so-called CHIMPs, which they say in one instance have deprived crime victims of billions of dollars’ worth of assistance.

Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., and several other Republicans on the Senate Budget Committee are pushing legislation (S 1071) that seeks permanently to limit the use of CHIMPs, or changes in mandatory program spending, in the U.S. Justice Department’s Crime Victims Fund.

The proposal would both restrain what critics say is a budget gimmick and lead to the distribution of more assistance to crime victims, proponents say.

They note the legislation would build on enforcement provisions put into the fiscal 2016 budget resolution adopted by Congress last month intended to limit the use of CHIMPs.

Critics charge that CHIMPs used to offset higher discretionary spending, but that do not actually reduce spending measured as outlays, are a budget gimmick. House and Senate appropriators use CHIMPs as offsets, allowing them to make room for more discretionary spending in appropriations bills.

The Senate Budget Committee has scheduled a field hearing on the Crime Victims Fund at Villanova University Law School in Pennsylvania on June 8, where Toomey will preside.

Toomey said his proposal would produce a quadrupling of funds for crime-victims service organizations in Pennsylvania, raising the federal aid from $17 million in 2014 to more than $70 million in 2016. Several local officials, including representatives of victim-aid organizations, are expected to testify.

Congress created the Crime Victims Fund in 1984 to provide funding to crime victims in the form of grants to states, local units of government and other entities. The fund is supported entirely by fines and other penalties paid by people convicted of federal crimes. The funds are classified as mandatory, rather than discretionary spending.

However, money that is held in the crime victims fund — or similar accounts — and is not spent can be used to offset higher discretionary spending elsewhere in the budget.

Restrictions on CHIMPs in the Senate budget resolution were watered down in the House-Senate compromise following an outcry from House Appropriations Chairman Harold Rogers, R-Ky., and other appropriators.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., initially refused to sign the conference agreement over the weakened language, but later relented.

Corker is a co-sponsor of the Toomey measure, along with Republican Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Cory Gardner of Colorado and Michael D. Crapo of Idaho.

The Toomey legislation creates a point of order against any CHIMPs that would limit spending from the Crime Victims Fund to an amount less than the average of the past three years’ collections into the fund. A GOP aide said the measure would preserve and likely increase the amount of money that could be distributed from the fund to crime victims. In effect, it would approximately freeze the use of the CHIMP as an offset at current levels.

In a statement when he introduced the legislation in April, Toomey charged that the use of CHIMPs deprives crime victims of services they need.

“If Congress followed the law, these victims would have access to hundreds of millions more dollars each year,” he said. “It is past time for Congress to stop balancing the budget on the backs of crime victims.”

Between fiscal 2010 and fiscal 2014, the Crime Victims Fund collected $12 billion, but gave crime victims only $3.6 billion, Toomey’s office said. Congress used the $8.4 billion difference as an offset for other, discretionary spending in the Commerce-Justice-Science bill.

Congress first placed limits on the amount that could be obligated or spent from the fund in fiscal 2000 to protect against wide fluctuations in receipts and to ensure a stable level of future funding.

Since then, appropriators have taken advantage of the obligation limits by using unspent mandatory dollars from the fund as an offset for higher discretionary spending.

For example, the fiscal 2015 omnibus spending law contains $19 billion in CHIMPs, including $10.5 billion from the Crime Victims Fund, the Congressional Budget Office said in a report.

The CHIMPs, including those from the Crime Victims Fund, were used to offset higher discretionary spending this year.

A Republican aide said the Toomey legislation would effectively extend restrictions on the use of CHIMPs from the Crime Victims Fund that are part of the fiscal 2016 budget resolution. The budget resolution limits Crime Victims Fund CHIMPs to $10.8 billion in the fiscal year beginning on Oct. 1, enforced by a point of order. As a result of that provision, the Crime Victims Fund is expected to disburse about $2.4 billion next year, three-and-a-half times as much as the $745 million it distributed in fiscal 2014, a Toomey aide said.

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