A Victory! Indian Tribes Receive FY 2018 Dedicated Funding Under VOCA

For over 10 years, the National Congress of American Indians Task Force, advocates, and tribal leaders struggled for inclusion and direct access to the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) for Indian tribes under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA). The disparity was glaring, and it was with great joy that those who worked so hard for more than a decade celebrated this historic victory.

A Temporary Fix

The Omnibus Spending Bill includes a historic funding stream for tribal governments from the CVF. Each year, Congress determines the amount to be released from the CVF, often referred to as an annual disbursement. When Congress approved the release of $4.6 billion from the Fund for FY 2018, it provided dedicated funding for Indian tribes of 3%, which totals around $133 million. Unfortunately, the FY 2018 Omnibus Spending Bill is a one-time appropriation only. As a result, this year Congress will need to again include as an appropriation a dedicated funding stream for Indian tribes.

“The need for an annual tribal VOCA allocation is essential to provide tribal VOCA programs developed under the FY 2018 appropriations stability year-to-year,” said Caroline LaPorte, Senior Native Affairs Advisor, StrongHearts Native Helpline and NIWRC.

Both the House and Senate are working on appropriations for FY 2019. The House Commerce, Justice, Science Subcommittee marked up its FY 2019 spending bill on May 9. Unfortunately, that bill cut tribal victim services funding. The bill also cuts tribal funding at OJP and results in cuts to overall funding for tribal programs at the U.S. Department of Justice of more than 55%. We expect an amendment to be offered when the bill goes to the full House Appropriations Committee to restore this funding.

A Permanent Fix Is Needed

A permanent fix to this issue could be achieved if Congress amends VOCA to include Indian tribes as eligible entities. As demonstrated by both the Senate and House, bipartisan supports exist to amend VOCA to address this longstanding injustice of Indian tribes being locked out of the CVF.

Since 2015, Senators on the Indian Affairs Committee have worked to create a permanent fix. Following hundreds of hours of discussions, meetings, passage of an NCAI resolution, and a hearing, the SURVIVE Act (S. 1870) was introduced to amend VOCA to include Indian tribes. It provides a permanent fix by directing 5% of the overall disbursements under the CVF to tribal governments. An identical bill (H.R. 4608) has been introduced in the House by a bi-partisan group of Representatives.

Roll Out of the FY 2018 Tribal Crime Victim Funding

This victory is historic but the timing is extremely challenging. The inclusion of the tribal VOCA appropriation as part of the Omnibus Spending Bill came midway through the fiscal year and requires DOJ to award the tribal VOCA allocation, approximately $133 million, to Indian tribes before September 30, 2018. “To award these funds to Indian tribes may require development of new guidelines and a solicitation for a new tribal VOCA program,” said, Virginia Davis, Senior Policy Advisor, NCAI. “We are looking forward to consulting with DOJ about how to best allocate this life-saving funding.”

In the context of victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and dating violence, the funding is expected to have a significant impact with respect to the gender-based violence that American Indians and Alaska Native women face. While Indian tribes, until now, have been locked out of accessing VOCA funds directly, states provide funding to support services to 4 million victims of all types of crimes annually. States use VOCA funds to provide services to victims through 4,400 direct- service agencies such as domestic violence shelters, rape crisis centers, and child abuse treatment programs.

For the first time, Indian tribes will have access to VOCA resources to similarly support tribal domestic violence shelters, advocacy programs for sexual assault victims, and child abuse programs.

The recommendations made by the NCAI Task on Violence Against Women to the DOJ for the roll out of the FY 2018 VOCA tribal program are provided in the Restoration section of the August 2018 annual VAWA mandated tribal consultation.