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Proposed Cuts to VOCA Endanger Services For Survivors

November 8, 2023
By Jimmy Meagher

Earlier this week, I joined our CEO Liz Roberts and our Vice President of Government Affairs Michael Polenberg in Albany to advocate for Safe Horizon’s 2024 budget priorities. Although we are hearing that next year’s budget may be tight, our message to Governor Kathy Hochul’s administration is that victims and survivors will have no place to turn if programs aren’t fully funded. Our community of victim services providers simply cannot sustain continued flat funding or, even worse, budget cuts to our programs. Budgets are values statements. They demonstrate the priorities of our elected leaders. Albany must make up for decades of underinvestment in the victim services sector and prioritize funding for programs like our Child Advocacy Centers, Domestic Violence Law Project, Community Programs, and so many others that rely on federal and state dollars to keep our doors open. The most important way Albany can do right by our community of providers and the survivors we help is to make up for shortfalls in federal VOCA funding in next year’s budget.

Victim services providers and antiviolence organizations across the country rely on many different federal funding streams to support and sustain our programs and services. One of the main funding sources that the sector relies on is the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. As part of VOCA, which became law in 1984, the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) was created as a non-taxpayer source of funding that supports the annual appropriation of funds for victim services. Today, VOCA funds nearly 6,500 victim services organizations across the country.

Several years ago, deposits into the CVF began to significantly decline, forcing Congress to decrease the amount of funding released for VOCA. In large part due to our collective advocacy, Congress passed the VOCA Fix Act in 2021, and President Biden signed it into law. This law directs deposits from deferred prosecutions and non-prosecution agreements to the CVF. Although the VOCA Fix Act has helped, it has not led to an increase in deposits at the rate we need it to. Because deposits into the CVF are still lower than they were at their peak, VOCA continues to face cuts, which will ultimately lead to programs laying off staff, reducing services, or closing.

We are at a crisis point that requires both federal action and state action. In New York, our federal VOCA grant has declined $121.6 million in the past five years. The NYS Office of Victim Services (OVS) is currently warning sub-grantees that it may not have the funding to fully cover the final year of our current 3-year contracts. While we advocate for a more permanent, sustainable federal solution, New York State must invest state revenues to make up for the VOCA shortfall. Other states, including Texas and Arizona, have found the necessary resources to keep critical victim services programs afloat, and we urge Governor Hochul to do the same in New York.

In budget after budget, the Governor and legislature rightly focus on how to create and promote safe communities throughout the state. But public safety is not solely about law enforcement and the mechanics of criminal court proceedings; public safety is about housing, economic security, access to healing, and so much more. The sustainability of the victim services and antiviolence sector is an issue of public safety. Our programs provide the supports and assistance survivors need. Our programs provide shelter, food, immediate financial support, and other essential safety needs. And our programs help survivors, their families, and their communities find healing. Albany must recognize this and use state revenues to support survivors and the safety net that organizations like ours provide.

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