2021 JOINT TRAINING CONFERENCE FOR VOCA VICTIM ASSISTANCE AND VICTIM COMPENSATION ADMINISTRATORS
Thank you, Michelle [Crum]. I’m so happy to join you. I want to give a big shout-out to Michelle and to Liam Lowney, and to their fantastic organizations – the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators and the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards.
Thank you, Liam, for working with our Office for Victims of Crime to make this training happen. And I am so excited to share with you that the National Association of VOCA Assistance Administrators will be receiving the 2021 award to host this conference for the next three years. Congratulations!
And of course, I want to thank my outstanding colleagues in OVC – including our wonderful new director, Kris Rose, and OVC’s very talented deputy director, Kate Peterson, and her State Victim Resources Division team, who work so hard with all of you every day to deliver services to America’s crime victims.
This has been a very eventful year for the victim service field – in many ways a very demanding year, as you continue to navigate the challenges of Covid. But in other ways, it has been a very exciting year – particularly for VOCA administrators. The VOCA Fix was one of the biggest pieces of good news we’ve had in a long time. I know we are all still taking in the impact of this new law and still grappling – in a good way! – with what it will mean for all of us. But it would be hard to overstate what a monumental step this is toward stabilizing the Crime Victims Fund. And tremendous credit goes to both your organizations for generating the momentum that led to the passage of this very important law.
We know that there’s been no greater challenge – and no bigger frustration – for VOCA administrators than the fluctuations in deposits and releases from year to year. This was hardly ideal from a planning perspective, but more important, it was troubling news for victims, and their families.
The new law does a number of important things. Most centrally, it channels fines from deferred prosecutions into the CVF. And I know the increase in the federal grant calculation for compensation is welcome news for compensation programs. Taking restitution recovery out of the calculation is another win for those programs. I’m also glad that we now have flexibility on no-cost extensions and clarity on the waiver of match requirements. Of course, the law also affirms that states need not require cooperation with law enforcement as a condition of victim compensation. This is good news for victims. I know you’ll be hearing more about the implications of the VOCA Fix over the course of this training.
I’m also glad that OVC continues to work closely with VOCA administrators on meeting the challenges around year-to-year fluctuations. I understand this outreach has been very useful, and I know I speak for Kris when I say we welcome feedback on how we can make it even more responsive to your day-to-day needs.
Speaking of funding, it gives me great pleasure to announce that we have just awarded fiscal year 2021 funding to the victim assistance and victim compensation programs. A total of more than $1.2 billion is going out to the states and territories this year through the formula programs. I also want to highlight that we are making a concerted effort to build the capacity of compensation and assistance programs. Over $3 million of that funding will go toward technology solutions to improve victim access to services and to train administrators and your staff.
We also anticipate awarding more than $90 million through our Tribal Victim Services Set-Aside program. This is one of OJP’s largest discretionary investments, and we’re very pleased that we will once again be supporting over 200 tribes served by these projects in American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
I also want to take this opportunity to let you know that we will be awarding an additional $27 million in discretionary grants in the coming weeks. This funding will address a range of issues, including elder abuse, hate crime victimization, services in marginalized communities, and programs designed to build trust between victims, citizens and law enforcement.
As I’m sure all of you are aware, the President has been a stalwart champion of victims throughout his career. He has long recognized that safety, justice and equity all hinge on our ability to reach victims, address the trauma they’ve been exposed to and help them feel validated and protected.
Included in that $27 million in discretionary grants I mentioned a moment ago is one initiative that fits squarely in the President’s strategy to reduce community violence by addressing the needs of victims – and that is OVC’s Hospital-Based Victim Services Program. We know that only a small percentage of victims of serious violence get help from a victim services provider. In underserved communities in particular, sometimes the only opportunity for interaction with a care-giving professional may be in a hospital. Having a trained victim service provider on site can be crucial to helping a gunshot survivor or an assault victim get the care and support they need. This innovative approach to victim care is a game-changer and I am thrilled that we were able to expand it by adding even more sites in FY 21.
I’m also excited about OVC’s new Center for Culturally Responsive Services, another discretionary program we’ll be announcing soon. This program is the result of OVC’s Communities of Color working group, a dedicated cohort of OVC staffers who identified a need and crafted a solution. This is another important opportunity to provide support to victim service programs in communities that are so often overlooked and poorly served.
VOCA Administrators play such an important role in ensuring that services are available and accessible to those who need them most. I know Kris’s team has been collaborating with both national organizations to communicate with you about how we can best respond to the challenges faced by communities of color and other underserved areas. Thank you for being willing to work with us and to help us find new and innovative ways of reaching victims so we can meet them where they are.
President Biden has made it clear that advancing equity and racial justice is a top priority of his Administration, and it’s the responsibility of government at all levels. We take this very seriously at OJP, and we are focused on addressing the long-standing inequities in our systems of justice. We know that people of color are disproportionately represented at every stage of the system. Both at the criminal and juvenile justice levels, people of color experience higher rates of arrests, detention and incarceration. They also suffer higher rates of victimization.
Much of the conversation around justice reform centers on law enforcement practices and mass incarceration, but we can’t forget that there can be no equal justice as long as large groups of our citizens feel unsafe and are unable to get the services they need. Dealing with the trauma of victimization in communities of color is critical if we hope to achieve true reform.
Finally, as we address justice reform, we cannot forget the importance of ensuring that victim and survivor voices are heard and represented in these conversations. The resources coming out of our Office for Victims of Crime will help move us in the direction we need to go. And your leadership, in your states and territories, will be critical to putting those resources in the right hands.
Before I go, I want to offer my encouragement to all of you. The last year-and-a-half has been extremely challenging, there’s no question. You have all moved through unchartered waters, trying to find creative ways to reach victims when in-person services haven’t been an option. I want you to know, on behalf of all of us at OJP, how impressed and how grateful we are for the way you’ve rallied to meet these challenges. Unfortunately, we haven’t yet been able to put the pandemic behind us, but we are comforted knowing that our VOCA administrators are finding ways to help victims through these trying times.
You are not in this alone. Kris has spent her career being a voice for victims, both in government and out in the field. She’s a true advocate and an outstanding leader, and she has an amazing staff who care deeply about victims and are always willing to go the extra mile. OVC has your back.
It has been a pleasure to speak to you all today, and I look forward to working with you in the months ahead. Have a great conference, and thank you for all you do.