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Clarification of Allowable Costs for Victim Assistance Programs

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OVC anticipates that it will upload the final VOCA formula victim assistance rule during the first week of July. It will become effective 30 days after publication in the Federal Register. In the interim, OVC is sending this communication to VOCA Administrators to again clarify what is allowable under the current guidelines for transitional housing and legal assistance.

Regarding legal assistance, victim assistance programs can provide emergency legal assistance such as filing restraining orders and obtaining emergency custody/visitation rights when such actions are directly connected to family violence cases and are taken to ensure the health and safety of the victim. See 1997 VOCA Victim Assistance Program Guidelines, Section IV.E.1.a.

Other allowable legal assistance expenses under the current guidelines include, but are not limited to: advocacy on behalf of crime victims during criminal proceedings; assistance in recovering restitution on behalf of crime victims; asserting crime victims’ rights in criminal proceedings directly related to the victimization; and advocacy to protect victims’ safety, privacy, or other interests as a victim in criminal proceedings. Additionally, in the civil proceeding context, services may include those that are reasonably needed as a direct result of the victimization, but do not include tort actions, criminal defense, divorce, or civil restitution efforts. Please note, however, that upon finalization of the Rule, allowable legal assistance will be further expanded, as long as it is tied to the victimization of the crime victim. Allowable legal assistance includes the funding of legal clinics. See attached June 7, 2010 listserv message to VOCA Administrators

Regarding transitional housing, victim assistance programs can provide shelter (including emergency, short-term nursing home shelter for elder abuse victims for whom no other safe, short-term residence is available). See 1997 VOCA Victim Assistance Program Guidelines, Section IV.E.1.a. OVC interprets the Guidelines as including transitional housing that is needed in order to protect the health and safety of victims and for whom no other safe, short-term residence is available. VOCA funds may be used to support staff time in locating resources to assist victims with these expenses. See 1997 VOCA Victim Assistance Program Guidelines, Section IV.E.3.i.

Finally, pursuant to the VOCA statute (Section 1404(a)(2)(C), codified at 42 U.S.C. 10603(a)(2)(C)), VOCA Administrators must certify that funds awarded to eligible crime victim assistance programs will not be used to supplant State and local funds otherwise available for crime victim assistance. The 2015 Department of Justice (DOJ) Grants Financial Guide defines “supplanting” as the deliberate reduction of “State or local funds because of the existence of Federal Funds.” For example, when state funds are appropriated for a stated purpose and federal funds are awarded for that same purpose, the state replaces its state funds with federal funds, thereby reducing the total amount available for the stated purpose.

We realize that some states may choose to impose a more restrictive definition of supplanting than the DOJ Grants Financial Guide. We strongly urge reconsideration of more restrictive definitions of supplanting, given that such more restrictive definitions may limit capacity building and stabilization of service providing organizations and also impede a state’s ability to obligate all of the available funding, ultimately limiting available services for crime victims.

OVC realizes that many of these issues will not be relevant once the new Rule is finalized. Thank you for your patience, and we look forward to working with the states in using the new Rule to support the funding of new and expanded services for many crime victims, and institutionalizing capacity in the victim assistance programs in your states. In the interim, OVC will post this communication on its website to ensure the greatest transparency on current, allowable uses of funding.

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Date Published: July 6, 2016