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US Senate unanimously passes bill to restore funding for the VOCA Act

Just a week after KIDS Place Director Alisha Ashe spoke to Macon County Commissioners regarding the need for emergency funding, due to cuts to the agency’s federal funding source, The Senate passed the VOCA Fix Act in a 100-0 vote and sent the legislation to President Joe Biden for his signature.

In 2018, North Carolina victim support agencies received more than $100 million from the VOCA fund. As of 2020, the VOCA fund balance stood at more than $6 billion. But in 2021, the state’s VOCA funding dropped nearly 80% to $22 million, and more cuts are anticipated for 2022.

KIDS Place was one of the many organizations struggling to balance their budgets after the unexpected funding cut this year. The Macon County Board of County Commissioners voted in a split 3-2 vote to approve $75,000 in emergency funding for KIDS Place last week — which will help the agency continue operating while the federal government resolves the funding deficit.

KIDS Place is a private non-profit, Nationally Accredited child advocacy center serving children in Macon County. Before there was KIDS Place, child abuse victims in Macon County were often bounced from one place to another. Although there were caring professionals working in those agencies, families were forced to go from agency to agency in order to meet the informational needs of those agencies. The places that professionals were meeting to talk with children were not always the best places for children to feel secure enough, to tell the truth. They were certainly not child-friendly settings.

KIDS Place exists to make the investigative and judicial process easier for children and to
insure that all child abuse victims in Macon County have access to evidence-based therapy, at no cost to the family.

While Ashe had been bracing for a 30-35% cut in funding at KIDS Place, when the facility
received the grant a few weeks ago, they found out the funding cut was actually 67%.
For KIDS Place, that meant their base funding of just over $315,000 was cut to be around
$100,000. At the same time KIDS Place experienced a drastic cut in their base funding, they also lost a competitive grant of over $100,000 which allowed the center to provide mental health services to children.

KIDS Place, although it operates as a private non-profit, partners with both the town of Franklin and the county to provide services not otherwise available. For example, the sheriff’s office and the police departments in Macon County work with KIDS Place to provide services to children when needed — if KIDS Place did not exist, it would be the responsibility of those agencies to provide the services. From January through June — KIDS Place has conducted 43 interviews at the request of child protective services and law enforcement — cost estimates are around $1,200 to conduct an interview and fund a position with the training required. KIDS Place has also completed 21 medical exams — which would have otherwise cost around $2,000 each to complete.

The federal VOCA (Victims of Crime Act) funding is essential to addressing the lack of available services for victims across the country.

Both Democrats and Republicans spoke in support of the bipartisan, bicameral VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act, which strengthens the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) is funded. Specifically, the bill redirects monetary penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements into the CVF to increase funding for state victim compensation and assistance programs and grants to victims’ service providers.

In 1984, VOCA established the CVF, which provides grant funding for state victim compensation and assistance programs. Grants are awarded to states, local governments, individuals, and other entities by the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office for Victims of Crime. The CVF does not receive appropriated funding, and instead receives most money through deposits from criminal fines; as a result, deposits fluctuate annually based on cases that the DOJ prosecutes. Additionally, money from forfeited appearance bonds, penalties, and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys Offices, federal courts, and the Federal Bureau of Prisons is also deposited into the CVF.

Due to the rapidly diminishing balance in the CVF, victim services are already being slashed in states across the country, and some programs and services may see close to a 100 percent cut within two years if Congress does not act. In Illinois, VOCA victim assistance grant awards went from nearly $129 million in Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 to approximately $41 million in FY2021—a nearly 70 percent reduction from FY2018. Organizations are preparing for significant further cuts that will force them to lay off VOCA-funded staff who provide critical services to survivors, including counselors, advocates, and lawyers. VOCA cuts would also impact the ability of states to compensate victims; for example, Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul shared that the state’s “Crime Victims’ Compensation Bureau receives approximately 3,000 applications for compensation annually,” and that “VOCA funds allow the Illinois Attorney General’s office to reimburse families for counseling expenses, medical bills, lost wages and so much more.”

The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act, introduced by Durbin and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), has wide support from the victims’ rights and law enforcement groups, including the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the National District Attorneys Association, the National Network to End Domestic Violence, and the National Association of Attorneys General.

When signed by President Biden, the bill will:
Direct federal criminal settlements from Federal non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, currently deposited into the General Treasury, into the CVF (known as the “deposits fix,” this change would be the most significant and could make an additional $4–$7 billion of non-taxpayer money available to the CVF);
Increase the percentage that state compensation programs are reimbursed by the Federal government from 60 to 75 percent;
Allow states to apply for a no-cost extension for VOCA assistance grants;
Give states the ability to waive subgrantee match requirements for VOCA assistance grants; and Provide additional flexibility for state victim compensation programs to provide compensation for victims, even if they do not interact with law enforcement.

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