Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act: A Permanent Fix to Establish a Tribal VOCA Funding Stream

The momentum continues to grow for passage of the SURVIVE Act (S. 1870/H.R 4608) as demonstrated by the inclusion of funding under the Omnibus Spending Bill for a tribal dedicated VOCA program. The goal of SURVIVE is to improve public safety in tribal communities and strengthen resources for Indian victims of crime. Passage of the SURVIVE Act will permanently create a dedicated funding stream under VOCA for Indian tribes.

The SURVIVE Act will increase needed tribal victim assistance by creating a tribal grant program within the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). The bill directs that 5% of the total annual outlays from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) be provided to Indian tribes. In addition, to ensure that tribal governments are able to access CVF resources on a footing equal to state and territorial governments, the bill empowers tribes and Indian victims of crime by:

  • Expanding the types of victim assistance, services, and infrastructure for which the funds may be used, including domestic violence shelters, medical care, counseling, legal assistance and services, and child and elder abuse programs;
  • Providing for significant confidentiality and privacy protections for crime victims to feel safe when receiving services;
  • Enabling tribes to deliver critical, culturally tailored victim services; and
  • Increasing the resources available to Indian crime victims from the CVF without increasing overall spending.

Victims of Crime Act (VOCA): Current Tribal Disparity

The VOCA was enacted in 1984 and established the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) to support services and compensation for victims of crime. The CVF is unique in that it is funded only through the collection of criminal fines, forfeited appearance bonds, penalties, and assessments. These dollars derive from offenders convicted of federal crimes and resulting fines and penalties; not taxpayers.

While Congress does not appropriate funds for VOCA, it does determine how much can be released or distributed each year from the CVF. Under the current system, it is estimated that less than 0.5% of the CVF reaches Indian tribes, despite federal data showing that American Indian and Alaska Native communities face some of the highest crime victimization rates in the country. 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.


THE SURVIVE ACT amends the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 to require the Department of Justice's Office for Victims of Crime to make grants to Indian tribes for programs and services for crime victims, such as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, child abuse programs, child advocacy centers, elder abuse programs, medical care, legal services, relocation, and transitional housing. In addition, the bill makes 5% of the Crime Victims Fund available for these tribal grants.


It is estimated that less than 0.5% of the CVF reaches Indian tribes, despite federal data showing that Indian tribes face some of the highest victimization rates in the country.


“With the high rates of violence against Native women Indian tribes and tribal programs need the necessary resources to provide basic services such as safe shelter, rape crisis services, and advocacy for Native women who on many tribal reservations have no services. In addition, Native women need immediate and long-term counseling and medical services due to the multiple victimizations committed against them by a single or multiple abusers. And sadly, for those families traumatized by having a missing or murdered relative they often need assistance with transporting their loved one home and with burial. It is a travesty of justice that Indian tribes with the highest rates of victimization do not have permanent and direct access, a dedicated tribal funding stream, under the Victims of Crime Act. Senate Bill 1870 will address this longstanding injustice by directing that 5% of the total annual outlays from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) be provided to Indian tribes.” 

—Carmen O’Leary, Executive Director, Native Women’s Society of the Great Plains, Testimony, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, October 25, 2017


Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment (SURVIVE) Act Sponsors

In 2017, Senator John Hoeven (R-ND), chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, introduced S. 1870, and the bill is cosponsored by Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV)), Steve Daines (R-MT), Jon Tester (D-MT), John Barrasso (R-WY), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Tom Udall (D- NM), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

On December 11, 2017, Representative Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ), Congressional Native American Caucus, introduced H.R.4608, and the bill is co-sponsored by Representatives Tom Cole (R-OK), Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), Don Young (R-AK), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Darrell Issa (R-CA), Frank Pallone (D-NJ), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Kevin Cramer (R-ND), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Jack Bergman (R- MI), and Ben Ray Lujan (D-NM).