Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)

The Victims of Crime Act was enacted in 1984 and established the Crime Victims Fund (CVF or Fund). VOCA is the largest source of federal funding for domestic violence and sexual assault services in the United States and is funded only through the collected federal criminal fines and fees that are deposited into the CVF. While Congress does not appropriate CVF funds under VOCA, it does determine how much can be released or distributed each year from the CVF. In fiscal year 2017, Congress set the distribution cap for CVF funds at $2.5 billion. CVF funds are primarily distributed to support two types of programs:

  • Crime victim compensation programs, which pay many out-of-pocket expenses incurred by crime victims (including medical costs, mental health counseling, funeral and burial costs and lost wages or loss of support); and
  • Victim assistance programs, which provide victims with support and guidance in the aftermath of crime(s), including but not limited to crisis intervention, counseling, emergency shelter, criminal justice advocacy and emergency transportation.

Under VOCA, each state and/or territory receives a dedicated annual amount of CVF funds for the above purposes. Formula grants to states and territories are based largely on population. However, despite the fact that American Indian and Alaska Natives experience the highest crime victimization rates in the country, federally recognized tribes were not included to receive CVF funds under the original 1984 VOCA legislation, therefore there is no dedicated CVF tribal funding stream for tribes to compensate and provide assistance to tribal crime victims. Instead, tribes can only access CVF funds through one of two small discretionary grant sources:

  • by applying for a pass-through grant from the state where the tribe is located, or
  • by competing for very limited grant resources that the Department of Justice administers under the Children’s Justice Act and the Office for Victims of Crimes (OVC) discretionary grants.

For more than 10 years, grassroots advocates, tribal leaders, and Native organizations including the National Congress of American Indians and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center have requested a permanent fix to this disparity by recommending that Congress create a dedicated funding stream within the CVF for tribes. Several amendments and appropriations bills have been introduced in Congress to assist in meeting the needs of crime victims on tribal lands. On March 5, 2021, the bipartisan VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act of 2021 was introduced to support vital victim service programs by preventing future cuts to already diminished federal victim service grants, though no tribal-specific amendments were included in this version of the bill.