07.20.21

Senate Passes Baldwin Legislation to Ensure Stability of the Crime Victims Fund

Bipartisan legislation includes Senator Baldwin’s fix 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, the Senate passed bipartisan legislation introduced by Senator Tammy Baldwin to strengthen the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) by fixing how the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) is funded. The legislation passed the House of Representatives in March and will now go to President Biden to be signed into law.

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. 

“We took on a problem and worked in a bipartisan way to fix it. 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 now we have taken action to replenish it, so people can continue accessing these critical resources,” said Senator Baldwin. “This innovative solution uses no new taxpayer dollars and now we have gotten the job done so that crime victims – including those who’ve suffered from domestic abuse, child abuse, sexual violence, and elder fraud and abuse, among others, continue to receive the services and assistance they need.”

“VOCA provides crucial funding for crime victim services programs around Wisconsin, making more resources available to victims, enhancing public safety, and promoting justice,” said Attorney General Josh Kaul, who led a bipartisan coalition of 44 attorneys general in urging Congress to take action on fixing VOCA. “Thank you to Senator Baldwin and the other senators who developed a bipartisan fix for the recent drastic decline in VOCA funding.”

“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 Monique Minkens, Executive Director 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 are so thankful that this important legislation will now be signed into law.”

“We are very pleased the Senate passed the VOCA fix bill today,” said Pennie Meyers, Executive Director of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault (WCASA). “VOCA is a critical source of funding for sexual assault services in Wisconsin. WCASA appreciates Senator Baldwin’s advocacy to ensure programs do not experience devastating cuts to services like crisis counseling, support groups, and court accompaniment that are so important for survivors.”

"VOCA provides funding to ensure women victimized by sexual violence can access a safe respite, committed advocates and counselors who provide trauma-informed crisis stabilization, and connection to vital resources including housing and long-term recovery support,” said Jeanne Geraci, Executive Director for the Benedict Center. “Perhaps most of all, our VOCA funded services help women believe in their dignity, their worth and hope for their future." 

“BeLEAF Survivors is the only agency currently providing a full range of services to sexual assault survivors in Racine County, and we rely heavily on VOCA funding to do so,” said  Samantha Sustachek, Program Director for BeLEAF Survivors, Inc. “We know this is the reality for many victim service providers, so we applaud Senator Baldwin and all who initiated and supported this bill, because we know firsthand the difference stable funding for victim service providers makes for sexual assault survivors and other crime victims.  By prioritizing the needs of crime victims, offenders can more easily be held accountable, and all our communities are safer.”

The legislation was led by Senator Baldwin (D-WI), U.S. Senate Majority Whip and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee Dick Durbin (D-IL), 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. 

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 these 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 will strengthen VOCA and preserve the CVF by amending how the CVF is funded. Critical changes in the bill include:

  • Directing criminal settlements from Federal non-prosecution and deferred prosecution agreements, which are currently deposited into the General Treasury, not 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 over the next few years);
  • Increasing the percentage that state compensation programs are reimbursed by the Federal government from 60 to 75 percent;
  • Allowing states to apply for a no-cost extension for VOCA assistance grants;
  • Giving states the ability to waive subgrantee match requirements for VOCA assistance grants; and
  • Providing additional flexibility for state victim compensation programs to provide compensation for victims, even if they do not interact with law enforcement.

The legislation has been widely endorsed from advocates, 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.

###