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Editorial

It’s time to pass the VOCA Fix Act

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Nearly everyone knows someone whose life was suddenly and unexpectedly turned upside down in an instant because that person became the victim of a crime.
And each year, victim services agencies across the Delaware and Lehigh valleys and around the country provide support, counseling, advocacy, crisis intervention and education to millions of children and adults who have been victims of violent crimes including but not limited to sexual assault, domestic violence, murder and mass violence. The impact of these agencies is immeasurable and every dollar of funding they receive matters significantly.
Victim services agencies, including those in Southeastern Pennsylvania, are funded primarily by non-tax dollars from the Victim of Crime Act Fund (VOCA), passed in 1984. VOCA is currently funded by fines from federal convictions and provides significant, core financial resources for victim services agencies to assist and support victims of human trafficking, sexual violence, fraud, DUI crashes, domestic violence and homicide. Because of VOCA, virtually any victim of a crime is eligible to receive comprehensive services ranging from state-of-the-art counseling, advocacy and support through the criminal justice system, SANE services, emergency shelter and support in accessing victim compensation.
Organizations funded by VOCA are in the business of healing and saving lives each and every day, and even throughout the pandemic, their doors never closed. They offer a wide range of services to survivors and their families in a trauma-informed manner and without the support of victim services agencies, many victims would be unable to access the physical, emotional, psychological and financial services that are available to them.
During the past four years, fines previously directed to VOCA have decreased significantly because of the Department of Justice’s increasing reliance on deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements (DPAs/NPAs). Unlike the monetary penalties associated with criminal convictions, the penalties associated with DPAs/NPAs are deposited into the General Fund of the Treasury, not the Crime Victims Fund (CVF). As a result, the VOCA fund is at an all-time low.
There is a solution. A bipartisan bill titled the VOCA Fix Act, was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives in March 2021, with a vote of 384 in favor and 38 against. It is currently awaiting action in the Senate with 57 co-sponsors. Passing the VOCA Fix Act could rectify the current funding issues and improve the long-term viability of VOCA and all the organizations across the United States that rely on VOCA funding. The VOCA Fix Act will correct the current funding discrepancy by mandating that monetary penalties associated with federal crimes get deposited into the CVF instead of the General Fund. The legislation will also increase funding for state victim compensation programs and includes other provisions outlined in a letter of support, signed by 1,710 national, regional, state, tribal, and local organizations and government agencies and sent to Congress on May 5.
Without the VOCA Fix, tens of thousands of crime victims in the Delaware and Lehigh valleys, whether child victims of sexual abuse, survivors of a family member who has been murdered, victims of domestic violence, or elders who have been the victim of fraud – would have nowhere to turn to receive the specialized services that NOVA and other victim services agencies are only able to provide because of VOCA funds. Trauma from victimization can have a lasting and devastating impact on victims and their families, including poor academic and work outcomes, homelessness, mental illness, and substance abuse.

Additionally, the Victim Compensation Assistance Program that provides reimbursement for medical and other expenses incurred by victims will be grossly reduced, if not eliminated, and funds typically provided to local law enforcement and district attorneys for investigations and criminal charges will also be dramatically reduced
“I do not know the ins and outs of what funding an Act like VOCA involves. What I do understand, and what I am an expert at, is the real-life effects VOCA is having on me as a person. I am a functioning human being because of VOCA services. VOCA-funded individual and group therapies have allowed me to smile for the first time ever and most importantly, a human life, my life, wasn’t lost. It is imperative on a human level that there is no gap in VOCA services. Had WOAR’s free trauma services not been an option, I may never have gotten therapy, because I may not have gone to a private organization knowing my employer had the right to know why I was seeing a therapist. Had there been a gap, I may have been found with a hole in my head in the shape of a .45,” according to an anonymous WOAR client.
Sen. Pat Toomey has blocked the bipartisan VOCA Fix Act twice from passing, most recently on June 17. With only one opportunity remaining, we are asking Pennsylvania residents to call Sen. Toomey to tell him to be the champion he has always been for VOCA, and to vote to pass the VOCA Fix Act with no amendments.

Penelope Ettinger
Executive Director, Network of Victim Assistance

Signed also by eight other directors of social agencies in the Delaware and Lehigh valleys


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