(The Center Square) – Iowa has received 8 percent less in federal funding for crime victim assistance and compensation grants for fiscal year 2022, the Attorney General of Iowa’s office announced last Tuesday.
The U.S. Department of Justice awarded Iowa’s Crime Victim Assistance Division $12.76 million, down $17.9 million from the previous fiscal year.
The Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division Director Sandi Tibbetts Murphy told The Center Square in a phone interview the office has planned ahead to reduce the impact on grantees, such as domestic violence shelters, so the impact next year is “not disastrous.” Agencies may reduce hours, she said.
“Although the Congress did pass [The VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021] those dollars will not start being deposited into the fund until at least 2023, and so it’s going to take a couple of years for the fund to build back up,” she said. “We actually are looking at for next year a 20 percent cut in funds that will be available to our programs. That … is going to be absolutely devastating and could result in some of our programs actually having to shut their doors.”
U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, co-sponsored the VOCA Fix bill. Under the bill, penalties from federal deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, which currently go to the General Treasury, go to the Crime Victims Fund and federal grants increase from 60% to 75% of state-funded payouts.
Since federal prosecutions have recently pursued more diversion programs instead of convictions, Tibbetts Murphy said the fines, fees and criminal penalties that convictions provided to the Crime Victims Fund have declined. The division will “have to greatly revisit” formulas for grant funding, she said. It is helping state coalitions find alternative funding and hopes state legislators will increase appropriations.
“There are always victims who are turned away from services for the lack of funding,” she said.
State Rep. Gary Worthan, R-Storm Lake, told The Center Square he has discussed the matter with the attorney general for the past few years and told the office to respond to federal changes by planning accordingly.
He added that in past years, the federal government had “exponentially grown” the fund. Congress tripled the Crime Victims Fund in 2015 from $750 million to nearly $2.4 billion and “by FY 2018, Congress had increased the annual amount available for distribution to over $4.4 billion,” the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General said in a July 2019 report.
“The programs expand to consume the amount of money allocated to them,” Worthan said. “The state can’t afford to pick up every program that the federal government walks away from.… We need to hold the line and make things work with the revenues that are available,” he said.
Asked whether any of Iowa’s $1.24 billion budget surplus should replace the federal funding decrease, Worthan said “that money belongs to the taxpayers.”
“The danger in using that surplus money is that there’s no guarantee that that’s going to be here a year from now.… Because we have more money doesn’t mean we get to spend it,” he said. “That’s not our money. That’s the people’s money.”
Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence is among the programs currently receiving funding from the state.
in an emailed statement that VOCA grants to states for victim service programs 5,000 fewer crime victims will receive services from Iowa programs from October 2021 to September 2022 and “at least 23,000 fewer victims will be served by Iowa victim service programs,” in 2023.
“Lack of funding inevitably forces programs to prioritize crisis response and undermines efforts to address comprehensive needs,” Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change Director of Community Engagement Lindsay Pingel told The Center Square. “This has ripple effects negatively impacting entire communities and is more expensive in the long run as victims lacking long-term stability return for services again and again.”
Pingel said the groups she represents have asked Gov. Kim Reynolds to allocate $20 million in ARPA funds to Iowa victim service programs “to continue helping victims and communities recover from the pandemic and while the federal VOCA fund recovers.”
The Crime Victim Assistance Division awards victim services grant funds in three-year grant cycles. With the changes in funding, the division delayed its funding by a year and anticipates release criminal justice funding applications in November 2022 and victim services funding applications in January 2023, according to information on its website.