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Congress must pass the VOCA Fix Act now to protect crime victims

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Victims of crime are facing potentially catastrophic cuts to funding for programs that serve them. Over the last three years, federal grants to victim services through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) have fallen by nearly two-thirds — and could drop even further if Congress does not act immediately to pass the bipartisan VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving is among thousands of victim service providers around the nation that rely heavily on VOCA grants, which are the largest source of federal funding for victim service organizations like ours. These grants are not taxpayer funded. They’re drawn from the Crime Victims Fund, which comprises monetary penalties from federal criminal convictions, including fines, forfeitures and penalties. VOCA also supports state victim compensation by matching 60 percent of states’ victim compensation funds.

The Crime Victims Fund is like a bank account with deposits and withdrawals. Traditionally, when deposits were high, Congress was able to withdraw money to fund victim service grants while leaving some in its “savings account” as a backstop for lean years. But in recent years, deposits to the fund are the lowest they’ve been since the early 2000s. This is in large part due to the Department of Justice’s prosecutorial decisions, particularly white-collar criminal cases. Instead of prosecuting, they are entering into deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements. Monetary penalties from these agreements go into the General Treasury instead of the Crime Victims Fund. With a dwindling Crime Victims Fund balance, Congress has pulled from the savings and cut victim services grants to avoid emptying it entirely.

Here at MADD, VOCA funds help us serve victims of drunk and drugged driving 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Our victim services specialists provide crisis intervention, emotional support, court accompaniment and education around the legal, financial and physical impacts of these crimes, which remain the No. 1 cause of highway deaths. Additionally, MADD provides peer support groups and connections, referrals and assistance with resources for continued needs.

I know firsthand how vital this support is. At age 13, I found myself in a courtroom, the victim of a crime that changed our family forever. Weeks earlier, on July 2, 2010, a drunk boater crashed into me at more than 60 mph as I sat on a Jet Ski behind my father’s lake house in Kentucky. The impact threw me off the Jet Ski and the boat landed on top of my body. I spent 3-1/2 minutes face down in the water and sustained a traumatic brain injury, a broken neck, jaw and collarbone, a lacerated liver and two shattered femurs. The boat’s propeller severed my right leg below the knee. When my offender denied any wrongdoing, I rolled my wheelchair out of the courtroom in tears; a MADD victim advocate was there to offer comfort and continued support for my family.

I am just one of millions of victims served every year by the thousands of organizations VOCA’s Crime Victims Fund support. These crimes are pervasive public health epidemics and include domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and trafficking, in addition to drunk and drugged driving.

The VOCA Fix Act offers a simple solution and doesn’t cost taxpayers a thing. The bill would change the law so that the monetary penalties associated with deferred and non-prosecution agreements go into the Crime Victims Fund — instead of the General Treasury. This is a common-sense solution that has broad bipartisan support. And it can’t wait. Every day that goes by without deposits is a day that crime victims and the programs that serve them are denied critical funding. Congress must pass this fix into law now for the sake of crime victims across the country.

Alex Otte is the National President of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.

Tags Crime Victims Fund Driving under the influence Victims' rights

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