Remarks as Prepared
Good afternoon (or morning, depending on where you are). Thank you, Kris, for your heartfelt words and your inspiring leadership of the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC). Under your direction, OVC is addressing disparities and inequities in the justice system, reaching victims in underserved communities and helping to interrupt the cycle of trauma and violence. We are so grateful for all that you and your team are doing at such an important time for our country.
I thank you for inviting me to speak today and for giving me this opportunity to welcome VOCA victim assistance administrators to the Winter 2021 Bi-Annual Summit. I am excited to be here live with you, to see many familiar faces, and to share with you the important work that we are doing throughout DOJ to support survivors of crime and address the inequities that prevent many people of color from receiving services.
Let me, first of all, commend OVC for its commitment to answering President Biden’s call to advance racial equity and support underserved communities. These systemic inequities leave too many underserved and unserved survivors – such as Black, Latino and Indigenous persons, and other persons of color; LGBTQ+ persons; and persons with disabilities – without access to lifesaving services, compensation and justice. Your creativity and vision are helping to expand the landscape of options and improve access for all victims and survivors of crime.
I understand that OVC has held several listening sessions and roundtables with administrators, survivors and other stakeholders about some of the challenges in administering compensation and assistance programs, including fluctuating funding and the obstacles that many survivors face in accessing compensation and culturally specific services. I want to thank those of you who participated in those listening sessions. Your ideas and feedback are so critical, and we are firmly committed to working with you to meet these challenges and find solutions.
As I’m sure all of you are aware, the President has been a stalwart champion of victims throughout his career. He has long recognized that safety, justice and equity all hinge on our ability to reach victims and address the trauma they’ve been exposed to.
Across the administration, we are striving to address the long-standing inequities in our systems of justice. This is a top priority for the department. People of color are disproportionately represented at every stage of the system. They experience higher rates of arrests and more incarceration and detention. They also suffer higher rates of victimization.
We recognize the importance of being flexible, open-minded and creative in interpreting and applying eligibility criteria for sub-recipients. If we are willing to broaden interpretations of eligibility requirements for subrecipients, we will be able to reach and serve more survivors. This is critical to our collective mission of delivering culturally responsive services to all communities.
I am happy that you will hear from fellow state administrators who are already implementing flexible interpretations of eligibility requirements, and I’m glad that you will have a chance to discuss with your peers how you can interpret broader eligibility requirements in your states. I know OVC looks forward to hearing the report-outs from all of you.
Since rejoining the department, I have had the honor of continuing my work on criminal justice reform. I know many of you also join in these efforts at the state and federal level. It is vital that we ensure that victims’ voices are brought to the table for these very important conversations.
When talking about criminal justice reform, we cannot forget that there is no equal justice as long as large groups of our residents feel unsafe and are unable to get the services and compensation they need. Dealing with the trauma of victimization in communities of color is critical if we hope to achieve true reform.
Like many of you, I was eagerly following the status of the “VOCA Fix” legislation. I was thrilled when President Biden signed it into law this past July. By now, I know you are all very familiar with this piece of legislation that we expect to help stabilize the Crime Victims Fund – and I am thankful to all of you who helped contribute to its passage.
I understand the challenges that you face because of the fluctuations in deposits from year to year. I also understand that many states and territories have decreased their contributions to state run compensation programs. This uncertainty in funding is troubling for the viability of state compensation programs, and for victims themselves, particularly in light of the unmet need in so many underserved communities.
I am heartened that since the implementation of the VOCA Fix in September, the Crime Victims Fund received the largest monthly deposit in the last four fiscal years. Since enactment of the VOCA Fix, deferred and non-deferred prosecution deposits into the fund have totaled over $224 million. This is very encouraging news.
I know that the removal of restitution recovery out of the calculation was also welcome news. I was pleased to advise the Attorney General to delegate authority to the Office of Justice Programs to approve no-cost extensions, and I am excited that two state programs have already taken advantage of the opportunity to seek extensions on their 2019 awards (and one was just approved!). That’s in addition to the 51 no-cost extensions that were approved for 2018 awards.
Finally, the new legislation gives states discretion to allow exceptions to the requirement that victims cooperate with reasonable requests from law enforcement as a condition of compensation. This, too, was done with the needs of victims firmly in mind.
I want to highlight two relatively new resources that we are making available to State Administering Agencies.
The OVC Center for VOCA Administrators is a training and technical assistance center designed specifically to support Victim Assistance and Victim Compensation Administrators. Since September, the OVC VOCA Center has been helping states and territories manage and administer VOCA funding to extend services to historically underserved communities and promote promising policies, practices and programs. I want to thank Janelle Melohn for her leadership.
I am also very excited about OVC’s new Center for Culturally Responsive Services, which will be led by Ujima. The Center will facilitate the delivery of training and technical assistance to increase access to victim services and victim compensation for victims of crime in areas that have been historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by inequality, including communities of color. You will hear from Karma Cottman and Condencia Brade, the leaders of this new initiative, later today. The Center for Culturally Responsive Services will collaborate with the OVC VOCA Center to help states and territories address some of the critical challenges for assistance programs. I hope you will take advantage of these resources.
In closing, I want to thank you for being here this afternoon, and for all the important work you do to make sure that victims – including underserved and unserved victims – have the support and resources they need.
The Department of Justice is so proud to stand beside you, and we are extremely grateful for all that you do.