Unless the United States Senate acts quickly, victims of crime face drastic cuts to the vital services that help them find justice and healing. In 1984, Congress passed the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), establishing a fund financed by convicted federal offenders — not taxpayers — to support victim services. In Utah, those criminal fines have been used to serve thousands of victims of child abuse, domestic violence, sexual assault, trafficking, homicide and other crimes.
Among those service providers are Utah’s Children’s Justice Centers (CJCs), administered by my office in partnership with counties, private sector volunteers, business leaders and experts in social work, education, law, health care and law enforcement. At each of Utah’s 25 CJCs, trained and caring professionals guide child abuse victims and their families through the investigative process and provide medical, mental health and advocacy services.
Over the past three years, the use of deferred and nonprosecution agreements in criminal cases has resulted in these fines going instead to the General Treasury, reducing available VOCA dollars by two-thirds. CJCs currently use the bulk of its $3.7 million in VOCA grants to fund mental health services and pay for core victim service positions. The impending cuts, effective July 1 and expected to be even deeper in 2022, will mean fewer trauma-informed services for Utah child abuse victims. State victim compensation programs have been struggling as well, and are unable to reimburse medical bills, lost wages, and funeral costs as they normally would.
Fortunately, the fix is a simple one and it does not cost taxpayers a dime. The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 (“the VOCA Fix Act”) redirects penalties from these agreements to the VOCA fund and increases the federal contribution from these funds to state victim compensation programs. Last fall, every state attorney general in the country sent a letter to members of Congress urging the passage of the VOCA Fix Act. Earlier this month, Congressional leaders received a similar letter signed by more than 1,700 national, state, tribal, local and government organizations — including our CJCs and several other Utah service providers.
The VOCA Fix Act has broad bipartisan and bicameral support, and we are very grateful to Utah Reps. Stewart, Curtis, Owens and Moore for recently voting in favor of the measure. Now we are urging Sens. Lee and Romney to also support and co-sponsor this critical bill as it makes its way to the U.S. Senate.
We cannot afford to wait. Just in early January, a case settled through a nonprosecution agreement, resulting in the $2.5 billion penalty going to the General Treasury instead of helping victims of crime. Each day we go without the VOCA Fix Act, we risk seeing more dollars diverted away from the fund and victims denied critical services. Please join us in calling on our Utah Sens. Lee and Romney to support and co-sponsor the VOCA Fix Act. Contact the Senate offices today by calling them, sending an email or sending a letter.
Sean Reyes is attorney general for Utah.