Bipartisan, bicameral legislation includes Senator Baldwin’s solution to ensure victims of crime – including domestic abuse, sexual assault, child abuse and elder fraud and abuse – continue to receive state victim compensation and assistance services
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) helped lead the introduction of critical legislation to strengthen the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) is funded. The centerpiece of this legislation and most important change to VOCA is the “Deposits Fix” – first identified and introduced in legislation by Senator Baldwin in 2020. The “Deposits Fix” will redirect monetary penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements into the CVF to increase funding for state victim compensation and assistance programs.
“The Crime Victims Fund ensures that states can provide compensation and assistance to innocent victims of crimes. This lifeline for so many is rapidly running out of funds and we must take action to replenish it, so folks can continue accessing these critical resources,” said Senator Baldwin. “I’m proud to have identified a new revenue source for the Crime Victims Fund – directing funds from deferred and non-prosecution agreements be deposited into the Fund. This innovative solution uses no new taxpayer dollars, and I’m glad to see it incorporated into our new bipartisan reform that will ensure that crime victims – including those suffering from domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual violence and elder fraud and abuse, among others, continue to receive the services and assistance they deserve.”
This legislation was led by U.S. Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC). In addition to Baldwin, Durbin, and Graham, the bill was also led by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK).
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 Justice Department’s Office for Victims of Crime. The CVF does not receive appropriated funding; instead, it receives most money through deposits from criminal fines. As a result, deposits fluctuate annually based on cases that the Justice Department prosecutes.
Deposits into the CVF are historically low, and the decrease is due in large part to greater use of deferred prosecutions and non-prosecution agreements. Monetary penalties associated with these prosecutions are currently deposited into the General Treasury, not the CVF.
“The Crime Victims Fund enables End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin to provide vital assistance to services that support survivors of domestic violence. The COVID-19 pandemic has isolated many survivors with abusive partners and it’s more important than ever we ensure they have access to services. Unfortunately, the Crime Victims Fund has faced declining deposits, threatening our ability to support survivors,” said Jenna Gormal, Director of Public Policy and Systems Change for End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin. “We applaud Senator Baldwin for identifying a legislative fix to this problem – directing fines from deferred and non-prosecution agreements into the Crime Victims Fund. Senator Baldwin's solution is the centerpiece of the bipartisan VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act and we hope to see this important legislation signed into law.”
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. Grant awards to states already decreased in both Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 and FY2020, and victims in rural and smaller jurisdictions will be particularly impacted by the cuts. In Wisconsin, Victim Assistance Grants were cut by nearly 80 percent between 2018 and 2021, with funding in 2018 totaling over $58 million and estimated 2021 levels standing at $12.7 million.
VOCA currently awards approximately $44 million in grants that directly serve victims of crime in Wisconsin. Further cuts to VOCA at the federal level would reduce funding levels to Wisconsin service providers by more than half in the next few years. Additionally, VOCA pays wages for over 1,100 personnel across Wisconsin each year. Over 90% of those personnel have some of their benefits covered by VOCA as well. A reduction in funding would lead to wage cuts and layoffs across the state.
The bipartisan, bicameral VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act would strengthen VOCA and preserve the CVF by amending how the CVF is funded. Critical changes in the bill include:
Along with Baldwin, Durbin, Graham, Grassley, Feinstein, Cornyn, Klobuchar, and Murkowski, the legislation is also cosponsored by Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Thom Tillis (R-NC), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Tina Smith (D-MN), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jon Tester (D-MT), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Bob Casey (D-PA), and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV).
The House companion legislation is being led by U.S. Representatives Jerrold Nadler (D-NY-10), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA-01), Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), Ann Wagner (R-MO-02), Mary Scanlon (D-PA-05), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-05), Debbie Dingell (D-MI-12), and John Moolenaar (R-MI-04).
The legislation has been widely endorsed from stakeholders, including in this support letter signed by more than 1,680 national, regional, state, tribal, and local organizations and government agencies.
Wisconsin organizations endorsing the legislation include Child Advocacy Centers of Wisconsin, Diverse & Resilient, End Domestic Abuse Wisconsin, WAVE Educational Fund, Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Wisconsin Crime Victim Compensation Program, Wisconsin Victim Assistance Program, Advocates of Ozaukee in Saukville, ASTOP, Inc. in Fond du Lac, Benedict Center in Milwaukee, Children's Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Community Referral Agency in Milltown, Domestic Violence Center DBA InCourage in Manitowoc, Embrace Services, Inc. in Ladysmith, Family Advocates, Inc. in Platteville, Family Service of Waukesha, Family Services of Northeast Wisconsin in Green Bay, Family Support Center in Chippewa and Eau Claire Counties, FRIEND Inc. in West Bend, Green County District Attorney's Office in Monroe, Green County Human Services Department Children, Youth and Families Unit in Monroe, Haven Inc. in Merrill, HELP of Door County in Sturgeon Bay, Hope House of Central Wisconsin in Baraboo, Jewish Family Services, Inc. in Milwaukee, Lakeshore Regional Child Advocacy Center in Saukville, New Beginnings APFV (formerly The Association for Prevention of Family Violence) in Elkhorn, Rape Crisis Center in Madison, Safe Harbor Child Advocacy Center in Madison, Safe Harbor of Sheboygan County, Inc., Sexual Assault Services in Racine, Stepping Stones, Inc. in Medford, The Bridge to Hope in Menomonie, The Women's Center in Waukesha, The Women's Community in Wausau, Tri-County Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in Rhinelander, and Wise Women Gathering Place in Green Bay.