Missouri agencies who work with crime victims are worried about what a federal budget deal could mean for the future of their programs.
They are concerned because the federal budget deal agreed to by Congress and signed by the president earlier this month took $1.5-billion dollars out of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) fund. That money comes from fines levied with federal convictions and is supposed to, by law, go to support victims of crimes and programs that help them.
Colleen Coble, Chief Executive Officer of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told Missourinet that deal marked the first time funds were taken from that fund for purposes other than those for which they are intended.
“The concern is that pulling money out of that fund is the beginning of reducing that fund balance again and again,” said Coble.
Domestic violence shelters represent one of several programs that benefit from VOCA grants. Coble says program administrators are now concerned about how much money will be available in the future.
She said the budget deal, “didn’t cut any existing money, but it has a chilling effect on those who are evaluating how to spend the money that states have already received. They have two years to spend that money. Might they decide to only release half of it?”
Coble said the first ever removal of funds from the VOCA funds for uses other than victims’ programs comes as also for the first time, the federal government released to the states dollars that equaled what was collected in one year. In Missouri that meant an increase of $28-million in VOCA money for grants.
“We haven’t even awarded those funds to programs and service providers yet, and here at the federal level is an action that may preclude the ability to have the increased funds that we need,” said Coble.
“For the first time in more than 10 years there was such excitement about what we could do to really meet the needs of those who have been harmed as a result of crime … and we could really change the landscape of that work in Missouri, so this budget deal coming just days after grant requests were submitted for this extra money had a very chilling effect,” said Coble.
She said the reduction at the federal level could change how grants are awarded in Missouri and every state.
“If the thought is that well, the feds are going to cut off this money, then maybe we shouldn’t help programs expand and hire more staff, and do all the things we were just poised to do,” said Coble.
She said as advocates nationwide have raised awareness of their concerns to their congressional delegations, some members of congress have said they would introduce legislation to back out of that $1.5-billion transfer from the VOCA fund.
VOCA funds also support programs that help victims of child abuse, parents of murdered children and families of other homicide victims, drunk driving homicide survivors, and victims witnesses in prosecutors’ offices in Missouri.