Each year, hundreds of thousands of crime victims and survivors receive financial assistance and reimbursement for crime-related expenses through crime victim compensation programs. These programs are administered by State Administering Agencies (SAAs) in states and territories and are supported by Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding and governed by Department of Justice federal guidelines.
I am pleased to share that for the past year, OVC has been working with our many partners to understand how the guidelines can be strengthened to increase access and equity. Ensuring that the voices of crime victims and other stakeholders are part of those conversations has been key and has added immeasurable value to the effort.
Since the guidelines were last updated in 2001, OVC has learned a tremendous amount about the complexity of trauma, institutional barriers to access, and the challenges administrators face in managing federal funding to serve victims. As we now know, for each act of violence, there is a concentric circle of harm that reverberates out from the victim through families and communities. It is crucial to help prepare victims and survivors for the healing journey ahead, and provide them with the compassion, understanding, and the financial compensation they deserve. And so, as Maya Angelou has said, “when you know better, you do better.”
Through ten listening sessions and numerous community engagements, OVC has heard from survivors, direct service providers, state administrators, national advocacy organizations, and federal partners about how the VOCA Compensation Program can be improved. Among the useful feedback we received, several issues stood out, including, but not limited to:
- Expanding allowable medical, mental, and culturally appropriate services to increase the care that victims can obtain.
- Expanding access to compensation programs and increasing outreach about the availability of compensation.
- Addressing the complexity of applying for funding and the delays in victims receiving it.
- Addressing the challenges in demonstrating cooperation with reasonable requests from law enforcement and the adverse impact of a determination regarding a victim’s possible contributory conduct.
- Increasing OVC guidance, support, and funding to help SAAs grow their programs and implement measures that will increase allowability of expenses and access to compensation.
My office has heard you and has made reimagining the crime victim compensation program a call to action. Our goal is to have this done by the end of 2024.
In the meantime, we have taken additional steps to increase access to compensation for victims of crime who have been historically underserved and adversely affected by inequality; steps that were influenced by SAAs who shared changes they’ve made. For example, the OVC VOCA Center is offering new resources and workshops for administrators on victim-centered correspondence, the expansion of exceptions to requiring cooperation with reasonable requests from law enforcement, and best practices for compensation claim processing. OVC also funded the first National Center for Culturally Responsive Victim Services to assist OVC with addressing systemic barriers to compensation for victims of crime from communities of color.
As our next step, OVC will publish its updates to the crime victim compensation program guidelines as a proposed rule in the Federal Register through a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking. Once the Notice is published, there will be an open comment period to gather additional input. Information on how to submit comments will be provided in the Notice.
In closing, I want to thank everyone who took the time to share their thoughts and vision with us during this process. I also want to commend the states across the country that have taken the initiative to reflect on their own laws and policies, and make the changes necessary to increase access to crime victim compensation and help ensure it is administered fairly and without bias.
I appreciate your partnership and look forward to sharing OVC’s updated crime victim compensation program guidelines with you soon.
With my sincere thanks and gratitude,
Office for Victims of Crime