RD266 - Report on Current and Projected Status of Federal, State and Local Funding for Victim/Witness Programs - October 16, 2013
Currently there are 104 local grant funded Victim/Witness Programs and 4 statewide victim assistance programs in Virginia. The Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) uses three funding streams to make grants to support these services for victims of crime: federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds, Victim/Witness Special Funds, and state General Funds. Federal VOCA funds are awarded annually to Virginia, and federal fiscal year awards support programs in the following state fiscal year. For example, federal fiscal year 2013 (FFY2013) VOCA funds are being utilized to support Victim/Witness Programs in State Fiscal Year 2014 (SFY2014).
Services provided by Victim/Witness Programs include explaining victims’ rights; assisting victims in obtaining protective orders; explaining and helping victims apply for compensation through the Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund (CICF); notifying victims of case statuses, court dates, and prisoner statuses; explaining the criminal justice process; accompanying victims to court and criminal justice related meetings; assisting victims in preparing victim impact statements; providing crisis intervention; and providing case disposition information. Annually these programs typically provide direct services to approximately 60,000 crime victims.
Victim services are not immune from funding reductions and annual uncertainties that have impacted other federal grant programs. After receiving increases (rather than reductions) in federal funds in previous years, Virginia’s federal VOCA funds were reduced by 11% for SFY2013. However, for SFY2014, federal funds were increased by 12%. Due to sequestration issues and anticipated additional federal funding reductions, the VOCA fund increase could very likely become a decrease again next year. This unpredictability reaffirms the volatility and inability to project sustainable increases to federal grant programs. Because state General Fund allocations for Victim/Witness programs have remained the same for the last few years, it is only through adjusting withdrawals from the Victim/Witness Special Fund that funding for the victim assistance programs in Virginia remain reliable from year to year. As we move forward, we continue to seek opportunities to not only avoid reductions but to gradually increase capacity for Victim/Witness services.
Federal Funding Outlook
Congress sets the VOCA appropriation level annually, but due to delays in approving a FFY federal budget, the federal Office for Victims of Crime was not able to provide funding award information to DCJS for many months after the current funding year was in effect. Fortunately, the most recent federal award reverses the decrease in the prior year’s award. With all of the uncertainty about the federal budget, it is not clear if we will see sustained level funding or a return to reductions in VOCA funding. However, possible reductions may not be as drastic for programs serving crime victims as for other federal grant programs.
State Funding Outlook – General Funds and Special Funds
Due to the economic downturn, the General Fund appropriation supporting Victim/Witness Programs was reduced by $465,000 in SFY2011 and still remains at $2,635,000. DCJS is hopeful that eventually an improving economy will allow restoration of the General Fund appropriation to $3.1 million.
The Victim/Witness Special Fund balance had been significantly depleted by SFY2008 in order to maintain local programs and the delivery of essential services when federal VOCA funds were insufficient and no General Funds had yet been appropriated. However, with the appropriation of General Funds beginning in SFY2008, and DCJS’ conservative approach to managing current obligations against the Victim/Witness Special Fund, the Fund operating balance has improved. Even as the overall crime rate continues to decline, revenue for this fund is expected to remain static or gradually increase along with the state’s population.
Local Funding Outlook
DCJS encourages allocation of local funds to support Victim/Witness Programs and maintain current staffing levels and the delivery of essential services. However, given current economic conditions, many programs have also seen declining local funding allocations. In fact, twenty-five percent (25%) of Victim/Witness Program Directors have reported a decline in the percentage of their total budgets supported with local funds.
Victim/Witness Programs continue to face financial challenges, given the uncertainty regarding the level of federal and state funding available, declining, uncertain, or inadequate local funding, and increasing costs of program operations. While having three sources has mitigated volatility in total grant awards, both operational costs and demand for services have increased over time, and the total grant award has not kept pace.
The appropriation of General Funds beginning in SFY2008 averted a funding crisis and helped stabilize the funding outlook for Victim/Witness Programs. However, reductions in the General Fund in SFY2011 and the annual volatility of federal VOCA funding have required an increased reliance on the Victim/Witness Special Fund.
Victim/Witness Programs are working within an increasing complex environment that includes new types of crimes and diverse victim needs. Crimes such as Human Trafficking frequently involve multiple jurisdictions and victims with different languages and cultural backgrounds. The many needs of victims and new protective order laws have increased the need for staff, training, and resources. In addition, six localities in Virginia still do not have Victim/Witness programs in their area. The need for additional funding for Victim/Witness Programs remains clear.