(COLUMBUS, Ohio) — Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost today joined a coalition of state and territorial attorneys general representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories, urging Congress to adopt key changes to the Victims of Crime Act that provide critical financial support to victims of violent crimes and their families.
In a letter to congressional leaders, the attorney generals call on Congress to adopt changes to the Crime Victims Fund, a national fund that supports state victims’ services programs. The recommendations will stabilize the fund’s finances and provide more flexibility to grantees who are providing services to victims and their families.
“Immediate solutions are required to ensure the long-term viability of this fund that offers crime victims a helping hand at perhaps the most vulnerable point in their life,” Yost said. “The financial strength of the fund is critical in making sure all Ohioans have access to the help they need.”
The fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA), is the primary funding source for victim services in the U.S. Deposits to the fund originate from criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices, federal courts and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The fund covers the expenses of essential direct services and support for victims and survivors in the aftermath of crime, including medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, courtroom advocacy and temporary housing.
The health of the Crime Victims Fund is at risk. In 2015, Congress increased the cap on distributions to it, allowing 2.5 million more victims to receive support. According to the letter, while “deposits have sharply decreased in recent years due to a decline in the fines and penalties recouped from federal criminal cases, withdrawals have increased at a rapid pace.”
The coalition makes three recommendations to promote the sustainability of the fund, and preserve access to programs and services:
- Redirect fines and fees from corporate deferred and non-prosecution agreements to the fund: The Department of Justice increasingly uses deferred and non-prosecution agreements to resolve corporate misconduct. The attorneys general ask Congress to redirect these deposits to the fund. In 2018 and 2019, recoveries resulting from these agreements were about $8 billion each year.
- Increase the rate of federal reimbursement to states for victim compensation programs: The fund currently reimburses state programs that provide financial assistance to victims at a rate of 60%, the remainder usually being funded by fines and fees in state courts. The letter recommends Congress reimburse state programs at a rate of 75%.
- Extend the amount of time VOCA funds can be spent: VOCA requires recipients to spend grants within a four-year period. The coalition asks Congress to extend the period of funding so that state and local organizations can better plan and predict funding for long-term services.