We at HOPE Center are extremely proud of the positive impact of the services we provide to victims of relationship violence here in Rice County. We strive to be effective advocates for our clients and we absolutely make a difference for so many at-risk individuals as well as for the community as a whole.

Providing these services obviously costs money and we are very grateful for the significant support we receive from the various organizations and individuals who contribute to HOPE Center. However, a major source of funding for us — and for similar organizations around the country — is currently at risk.

You may not be familiar with the Victims of Crime Act. Referred to as “VOCA,” this program is the largest source of federal funding for victim service organizations. For HOPE Center specifically about 50% of our money comes from state and federal grants, of that 71% is VOCA funding. These grants are drawn from the Crime Victims Fund which is funded by monetary penalties associated with federal criminal convictions, particularly for white collar crimes.

However, the money available for VOCA grants has dropped dramatically. Grants for victim services over just the past three years have been slashed by two-thirds. This reduction totals more than $7 billion including $2.5 billion just since January 1 of this year.

This funding shortfall is due to the U.S. Department of Justice entering into deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements instead of convicting offenders. Any money from those agreements is deposited into the U.S. Treasury instead of being available to fund VOCA grants as they once were.

There is, however, a solution.

The federal VOCA Fix Act would increase deposits into the Crime Victims Fund by redirecting the monetary penalties associated with deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements as well as funds from monetary penalties associated with convictions. This bill, if passed, would neutralize the negative impact of the Justice Department’s current prosecutorial strategy and would reinstate the funding that is so desperately needed.

It is important to note that these are not taxpayer dollars, and this change would not represent an increase in federal spending — just a reinstatement of existing funds to assist crime victims.

The good news is that the U.S. House of Representatives has overwhelmingly passed the VOCA Fix Act by a bipartisan vote of 384-38. However, it has not yet been taken up by the U.S. Senate where similar support is expected.

More than 1,700 organizations and government agencies have signed on to a letter in support of its passage and there has been a major national grassroots campaign this month to educate Senators and motivate them to act.

While we are focused on the impact on funding for client services provided by HOPE Center and other similar organizations, the Crime Victims Fund also supports programs that serve survivors of child abuse, sex trafficking, drunk driving, homicide, and other crimes. The impact of the current funding shortfall is certainly wide-ranging and needs to be rectified.

Please join us in advocating for the funding that is necessary to support crime victims.

We invite you to call or email U.S. Senators to encourage them to bring the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 to a vote.

Passing this critical legislation will ensure that the only source of federal funding for victim compensation grants will continue to make a huge difference here in Rice County and across the country.

Erica Staab-Absher is executive director of the HOPE Center. Reach the center at 507-332-0882.

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