This program to serve abused kids costs taxpayers nothing. The cost if we fail to fix it? Everything.
Recent media reports have focused on the hidden — and growing — problem of child abuse during the pandemic as victims are spending more time at home and out of the watchful eye of caring teachers, pediatricians, extended families, and neighbors. The problem of increased risk posed by the pandemic has been greatly magnified by a little-known problem on Capitol Hill — threats to the Victims of Crime Act funding. The election and its aftermath have, for far too long, deflected attention away from a looming crisis in victim services in this country created by cuts as large as 40% proposed for the current fiscal year and long-term sustainability issues within the fund. The human cost of failing to prevent these cuts falls on our most vulnerable — America’s children. It is up to Congress to protect them.
The Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), passed in 1984, has through its Crime Victims Fund (CVF) funded essential victim services such as medical care, mental health care, and victims advocacy for the nation’s crime victims for the last 35 years. These funds are not taxpayer dollars, but rather are fines and fees levied against those convicted of federal crimes and as a part of settlements in federal criminal cases. States receive these funds on a formula basis to provide care to crime victims, including, crucially those most vulnerable victims — children who have experienced sexual abuse or physical abuse.
The nation’s Children’s Advocacy Centers, or CACs, are a network of 900 care centers where child victims of abuse receive comprehensive care while working with prosecutors and law enforcement to hold offenders accountable. Last year, CACs provided forensic interviews, medical evaluations, evidence-based mental healthcare, and victim advocacy services to more than 371,000 children to help them heal from the trauma of abuse. For every $1m in VOCA funding cut from CACs, 242 child abuse victims will go without help. At that rate, if current proposals that would reduce VOCA dollars by 40% prevail (and setting aside fluctuations across states), many CACs would experience cuts that could mean, each year, as many as 36,000 abused children would receive no care at all. Even worse, if CVF were allowed to become insolvent as it will be without a fix, tens of thousands more children would go without care in an unsustainable, erratic funding environment. In a time in which children are most at risk, doing nothing and allowing the brunt of cuts to fall on these children is dangerous and unacceptable.
Moreover, this is a problem we should never find ourselves in again. Federal enforcement priorities over the last few years have meant both less of the large penalties standard in white-collar federal crime and more deferred and non-prosecution agreements in which settlement dollars go into the General Treasury rather than into the Crimes Victims Fund — running the Crimes Victims Fund down to unsustainably low levels. What we need is a permanent solution. All monetary penalties from deferred and non-prosecution agreements should be deposited into the Crime Victims Fund, so that this important non-taxpayer source of support for victim services is sustainable in perpetuity rather than reeling from funding crisis to funding crisis each year.
Restoring funding levels and creating a permanent solution should be included in the FY21 omnibus funding bill before Congress now — and before the VOCA funding crisis deepens. The Victims of Crime Act has long had bipartisan support as Democrats and Republicans alike care deeply about crime victims and children who have been gravely harmed. We are calling on Congress to take immediate action to fund VOCA as close to level as possible for FY21 and to create a permanent VOCA fix so that these 36,000 abused children — and many more down the road — are not abandoned with little to no care.
As a nation, we have failed to protect children from harm in the first place. We cannot afford to fail in providing the help they need to heal and live the lives they deserve.