As a nation we are pulling out all of the stops to address the COVID-19 pandemic and the associated public health crisis. However, we are turning our backs on people impacted by long standing, pervasive public health epidemics — domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault, trafficking, and other interpersonal violence.
Congress must take immediate action in the upcoming omnibus appropriations bill to support survivors and the programs that serve them across America, including Crime Victim Services in Allen and Putnam Counties, Ohio.
Specifically, Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants are the largest source of federal funding for victim response organizations in the nation. These grants are drawn from the Crime Victims Fund (“CVF”), which is from penalties and fines from federal criminal convictions; VOCA grants are not funded by taxpayers! They have been used to assist survivors of all crimes, including business thefts, elder scams, drunk driving, and surviving family of homicides since the CVF was begun by President Ronald Reagan.
For 35 years the CVF has been like a bank account with deposits and withdrawals. Since 2017, the CVF account taken from federal criminal penalties and fines has decreased by 66%. In just the last two years, Crime Victim Services in Allen and Putnam Counties along with most Ohio victim service programs, has had a 47% decrease in VOCA funds. That directly affects victims’ ability to recover from safety, trauma, justice, and financial impacts of crime. Locally, that resulted in one-third of the VOCA funded child abuse positions and human trafficking positions being eliminated, as well as half of our elder abuse positions and the only Crime Victim Services’ trauma counselor position.
The historically low deposits into the CVF are largely due to U.S. Department of Justice’s prosecutorial decisions, particularly in white-collar criminal cases. Instead of prosecuting, they are entering into deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements. Monetary penalties associated with these agreements go into the General Treasury instead of the Crime Victims Fund. The underlying crime is the same, but victims do not benefit from that money — more than $7 billion over the last three years.
The solution is simple: change the law so that monetary penalties associated with deferred and non-prosecution agreements go into the Crime Victims Fund. It’s a common-sense solution that has broad bipartisan, bicameral support. Every day that goes by without this deposits fix is a day that crime victims and the programs that serve them are denied critical funding. Congress must pass this fix into law as part of the upcoming omnibus appropriations bill.
We are asking our U.S. Senators Rob Portman and Sherrod Brown, and U.S. Representatives Jim Jordan and Bob Latta, to be leaders on this issue for their constituents. Violent crime victims need you as their champions. They need you to tell the leadership of your chamber that you wholeheartedly support an inclusion of the VOCA / CVF deposits fix. Please make this common sense change now to avert the upcoming catastrophe of a lack of victim services. Your voters will support you. Only three years ago an overwhelming 83% of Ohioans voted to amend the Ohio Constitution for victim rights.
More information about proposed policy changes in the form of a letter signed by over 1,500 organizations and government agencies can be found at http://alturl.com/b87bi.
David Voth is the executive director of Crime Victim Services, serving Allen and Putnam counties. Juergen Waldick is the Allen County prosecuting attorney. Gary Lammers is the Putnam County prosecuting attorney