August 25, 2020
LANSING – Attorney General Dana Nessel recently joined a coalition of attorneys general representing all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories urging Congress to adopt key changes to the Victims of Crime Act that provide critical financial support to victims of violent crimes and their families. In a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer and the House and Senate Judiciary Committees, the attorney generals call on Congress to adopt changes to the Crime Victims Fund, a national fund that supports state victims’ services programs. The recommendations will stabilize the fund’s finances and provide more flexibility to grantees who are providing services to victims and their families.
“In some instances, crime victims were subjected to a traumatic experience and must recover emotionally or physically, both of which can require treatment from health care professionals and the medical bills that go with it,” Nessel said. “Some victims may also lose income due to an inability to work or may have otherwise been financially crippled by the crime itself. In Michigan, I’ve taken steps to provide crime victims with information and resources to help them understand their rights, and I’ve offered additional support through crime victim advocates who help victims navigate our legal system. But providing financial support for crime victims is an important part of the process we must not overlook. That’s why I’ve joined with attorneys general from across the U.S. and its territories to call on Congress for its support in caring for those targeted by criminals.”
The fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA), is the primary funding source for victim services in all 50 states and six U.S. territories. Deposits to the fund originate from criminal fines, forfeited bail bonds, penalties and special assessments collected by U.S. Attorneys' Offices, federal courts and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The fund covers the expenses of essential services and support for victims and survivors in the aftermath of crime, including medical care, mental health counseling, lost wages, courtroom advocacy and temporary housing.
The financial health of the Crime Victims Fund is at risk. In 2015, Congress increased the cap on distributions to the fund, allowing 2.5 million more victims to receive support. While “deposits have sharply decreased in recent years due to a decline in the fines and penalties recouped from federal criminal cases, withdrawals have increased at a rapid pace,” according to the letter.
The coalition makes three recommendations to promote sustainability of the fund, and preserve access to programs and services:
Nessel’s office recently revamped its Crime Victim Rights website to offer useful information and resources to victims of crime. In an effort to continue best practices at the Attorney General’s office, Nessel also has on staff several victim advocates to support victims through legal proceedings. Some of those positions are funded through VOCA grant dollars, administered by the Division of Crime Victim Services in the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services. Victim advocates are professionally trained and are assigned to provide services to victims in specific focus areas, such as clergy abuse, sexual assault cases like the Larry Nassar tragedy at Michigan State University and elder abuse, among others.
Joining Attorney General Nessel in the filing of this letter to Congress are the attorneys general from the states and territories of Massachusetts, Montana, Alabama, Alaska, American Samoa, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin and Wyoming. The National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) played a key role in facilitating this letter.