The Relationship of the SURVIVE Act and the Victims of Crime Act

Unlike states and territories, Indian tribes do not have a tribal dedicated funding stream under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). The SURVIVE Act (S. 1870) will address this longstanding injustice by directing 5% of the total annual outlays from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) to Indian tribes. The 2013 balance of the CVF was over $13 billion.

Overview of VOCA

The idea behind the Act was that money collected by the government from criminals should be utilized to help crime victims. VOCA dollars are primarily distributed to support two important 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 territory receives a dedicated annual amount for the above purposes. Formula grants to states and territories are based largely on population. Of the total amount allocated for state victim assistance grants, each state receives a base of $500,000 ($200,000 for territories), and the remainder is distributed to each state and territory proportional to population.


“Now is the time to make sure that crime victims in tribal communities have access to the crime victim assistance and compensation that they desperately need. Creating a dedicated tribal funding allocation from the CVF would provide a stable source of funding for Indian tribes to develop the victim’s services infrastructure that is taken for granted in much of the rest of the country.”

—NCAI Written Testimony, SCIA Oversight Hearing, Victim Services in Indian Country


VOCA Is Generally Not Available to Indian Tribes

Tribes were not included in the 1984 VOCA legislation. As a result, there is no dedicated VOCA tribal funding stream for Indian tribes to compensate and provide assistance to tribal crime victims. Rather, tribes must access these funds through one of two grant sources. The first is what is known as a pass-through from the state where the tribe is located. The second is 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 Crime (OVC) discretionary grants. These small discretionary grant programs cannot be compared to the current state formula program.

S. 1870, the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act

American Indian and Alaska Natives experience the highest crime victimization rates in the country, but are largely left out of VOCA-funded programs. Since 2003, the NCAI Task Force has recommended that Congress create a funding stream within the CVF for Indian tribes. The NCAI resolution concerns are based on the following information from the United States Department of Justice:

  • Between the years of 2011–2014, programs that served American Indians/Alaska Native survivors of violent crimes, received less than 0.5% of the CVF annually.
  • In 2013, more than 60%of states with Indian tribes did not make a single sub grant. As a result, Native communities and survivors of violent crimes received little assistance.

For more than 10 years, the National Congress of American Indians Task Force, advocates, and tribal leaders have requested a permanent fix to this disparity. In the last three years, Congress has considered amending the VOCA to address this issue. In 2015, Senator John Barrasso, Senator Jon Tester, and other bipartisan Senators on the Indian Affairs Committee worked to introduce the SURVIVE Act to direct 5% of the overall CVF disbursements to tribal governments with the expressed purpose of meeting the needs  of crime victims on tribal lands. In 2016, Representative Mike Honda (prior D-CA) and Tom Cole (R-OK), worked together to pass an amendment to the House Commerce, Justice and Science appropriations bill for FY 2017, directing 5% of the CVF to tribal governments. In 2017, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced S. 1870, with support of 10 co-sponsors.

FY 2017 VOCA Distribution Is $2.5 Billion

During the past two years, Congress has more than tripled outlays from CVF, which reflects Congress’s commitment to provide services to victims of crime. For FY 2017, the VOCA cap was set at $2.5 billion. Even with the above documented increases, the FY 2017 distribution did not include a dedicated stream for tribes. Furthermore, tribes and American Indian/Alaska Native survivors have not been given any access to these increases.