Almost four decades ago, states and the federal government collaborated on an important effort to support crime victims and survivors with critical services through the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. But now the resources necessary to provide these services are at great risk.
The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021, or VOCA Fix Act, is a bipartisan solution that would provide a strong foundation for that work to continue in the years to come. The House overwhelmingly passed the measure last week, with bipartisan support. This legislation is urgently needed and we urge the Senate to swiftly pass it.
In an August 2020 letter to congressional leadership, every state and territory attorney general in the United States agreed on the steps Congress must take to stabilize the Crime Victims Fund. The CVF supports crime victims and survivors with compensation for medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, courtroom advocacy and temporary housing. The ongoing decline in the CVF’s balance has led to devastating cuts to services, and this shortfall is only expected to worsen. The VOCA Fix Act would stabilize the CVF and guarantee support for millions of victims and survivors for years to come.
The CVF is funded not by taxpayers but primarily from “criminal fines, forfeited appearance bonds, penalties and special assessments collected by the U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons.” However, federal prosecutors increasingly rely on deferred and non-prosecution agreements to resolve corporate misconduct cases. While these agreements can result in fines and penalties paid to the federal government, recoveries are deposited into the general treasury rather than the CVF. As a result, the balance of the CVF has suffered. The VOCA Fix Act would restore funding by redirecting fines and penalties from deferred and non-prosecution agreements to the CVF.
Today, a significant number of attorneys general oversee their states’ victim of violent crime compensation programs, ensuring victims and survivors can get medical and counseling support and can pay for funeral expenses. The CVF supports the states with a 60 percent match of victim compensation spending. As described in the August letter, criminal justice reform initiatives, as well as court closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have resulted in a significant decline in states’ collections of fines and fees, limiting their ability to compensate eligible expenses. The VOCA Fix Act would offer a solution: increase the reimbursement rate to 75 percent, providing desperately needed financial support for these programs.
Attorneys general have always prioritized working with federal partners to ensure victims are cared for and protected. As noted in the 1986 Report on the President’s Task Force on Victims of Crime, the National Association of Attorneys General led the effort to educate prosecutors around the country about the need to incorporate victim services into their efforts. It also helped to draft model legislation that “would require prosecutors to consider the interests of victims throughout the criminal justice process.” Thirty-seven years after the Victims of Crime Act created the CVF, the fund continues to be of vital importance to the victim community. We must stabilize the CVF so future victims and survivors of crime can receive the support they deserve.
Attorneys general are not alone. Organizations representing thousands of victim service providers, prosecutors and state VOCA administration and compensation agencies, as well as millions of survivors of crime, also have called on Congress to stabilize the CVF. With the fund at risk, millions of survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other acts of violence are in jeopardy of losing critical support.
Survivors cannot wait another moment. Congress must act now to repair the fund by passing the VOCA Fix Act.
Maura Healey, a Democrat, is the attorney general of Massachusetts.
Alan Wilson, a Republican, is the attorney general of South Carolina.
Both serve on the Criminal Law Committee of the National Association of Attorneys General.