For immediate release – Wednesday, January 7, 2009.
Contact Bob Brammer – 515-281-6699.
Attorney General and Crime Victim Advocates ask Lawmakers:
Maintain Current Levels
of Crime-Victim Funding
Attorney General Tom Miller is asking the Legislature to maintain at least current levels of state funding for 31 local crime victim programs all over the state, and for the crime victim compensation program, which helps pay certain expenses for victims of violent crime.
“We are asking the Legislature to directly provide $4 million for 31 programs around the state that come to the aid of victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, so we don’t have to deplete compensation funds used to aid individual crime victims,” Miller said.
“Last year the local programs provided critical services to more than 26,000 victims, including more than 5,000 children, and individual victim compensation served 5,249 victims,” Miller said. “We urgently need to avoid cutting those programs below current levels.” [Go to map of local programs. Go to list of local programs.]
Miller said for the last few years the Legislature has directed that funding for the local victim services programs be taken from reserves in the state’s Crime Victim Compensation Fund. That fund is designed primarily to pay specified out-of-pocket expenses for individual victims of violent crime – such as funeral expenses of someone who is murdered, or medical costs not covered by insurance for an assault victim. But Miller said reserves in the Compensation Fund no longer can sustain full funding of both the compensation program for individuals and state funding for the 31 local programs around the state.
“Something has to give,” Miller said. “We have advised the Legislature for several years that the Compensation Fund, which comes from various fines and penalties paid by criminals, would not always be able to fully fund both programs. Now we’ve hit that crunch time. We need the Legislature’s direct appropriation of funds again – as it did in years past – for the crucial network of local programs all over Iowa.” [Go to AG's letter to lawmakers, Oct. 17, 2008.]
Miller said the 31 programs are located in 27 communities, but they serve the whole state. “These programs already are stretched thin with current funding, and they ought to receive more support. They do a heroic job. But I know these are difficult times for everyone, and I ask the Legislature at least to maintain current funding of these programs,” he said.
“If the Legislature doesn’t directly fund the local programs as it did in the past, and again requires the local program funding primarily from the Compensation Fund, then there will not be enough in that fund to pay compensation for individual victims of assault, victims of drunk drivers, survivors of murder victims, and so many other victims of violent crime,” Miller said.
“It is difficult for me to ask for this funding in these hard financial times, but I believe this is a matter of justice and a matter of safety. It’s a matter of justice because Iowa has a long record of assisting victims of crime, and not just punishing and rehabilitating criminals,” he said.
“And it’s a matter of safety and security and recovery for victims,” Miller said. “These programs give indispensable, life-saving services, including helping victims with safety plans, finding safe places to stay for victims and kids, guiding victims through the criminal justice system, and helping Iowans cope with the unforeseen costs of being victims of violent crime.”
Miller led a news conference Wednesday at the State Capitol about maintaining funding for crime victim services. He was joined by Beth Barnhill, Director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA), who also represented the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ICADV); Mary Ingham, Director of Crisis Intervention Service of Mason City, which serves crime victims in eight north-central Iowa counties; Katie Thompson, a survivor of domestic abuse who is the author of “Our Stories,” a book about 31 Iowa women who have survived being crime victims; and Rodney Fritz, whose family received crime victim compensation help after his 19-year-old son, Cody, was killed in a crash caused by a drunk driver.
The AG’s two budget requests for FY10, in order of priority, were first submitted to all legislative leaders on October 17, 2008:
(1) Appropriate $3.2 million to victim assistance funds for local crime victim service programs. Remove language that now requires the AG Office to transfer $3.2 million from the Compensation Fund to the assistance program for local programs. “This would put the Compensation Fund on a more solid footing and would permit the Office to pay victims their full benefits on a prompt basis,” the AG’s letter to lawmakers said. The A.G. would retain current legal authority to transfer money from the Comp. Fund to local programs if fiscally possible.
(2) Appropriate an additional $850,000 for local crime victim service programs. (This would provide $850,000 for FY10 that was moved in FY09 from the AG’s Forfeited Property Fund to the grant program funds in order to replace lost federal funds.)
Brief history of Legislative funding in these areas:
In 1979, the Legislature established an appropriation to partially pay for local victim service programs to serve victims of sexual abuse and domestic abuse. In 1983, the Legislature established the Compensation Fund (funded entirely by percentages of various criminal fines and penalties) to pay for legislatively-authorized compensation for out-of-pocket expenses of victims of violent crime – such as counseling, burial or medical expenses not covered by insurance.
In 2002, after two decades of making appropriations, the Legislature “zeroed-out” the appropriation for community-based domestic and sexual abuse victim services. At that time, the Compensation Fund had built a significant reserve and was able to sustain funding of the state’s share from the reserve. Over several years, the Attorney General’s Office informed the Legislature that the “Comp Fund” would not be able to always sustain all of the local victim service funding. The Compensation Fund also has seen a steep increase in the cost of medical expenses incurred by victims of violent crime; that is one reason for the request to the Legislature for authority to pay medical bills for victims of violent crime at a lower than 100% rate. The Attorney General’s Office also is making substantial efforts to save Compensation Funds through cost-savings of various kinds.
Numbers of Iowa crime victims served by the Compensation Fund program, and by local programs for whom the appropriation is requested for FY10:
Last year (FY08), the Crime Victim Compensation Program served 5,249 Iowa victims of crime and paid $7.2 million of their out-of-pocket expenses of being an innocent victim of crime. Examples of compensation authorized by the Legislature: Counseling for victims, up to $5,000; medical care for victims, up to $25,000; funeral and burial expenses, up to $7,500; child care required for court or medical proceedings, up to $1,000; compensation for lost wages due to crime-related injuries, up to $6,000, and for lost wages for court proceedings, up to $1,000; and so on. The application process is simple. Applications are accepted through the mail or by telephone. The Crime Victim Compensation Program cannot erase the painful memories of a crime, but it can help in recovery and ease the financial burdens victims face. (For information, go to www.IowaAttorneyGeneral.org – click on “protecting crime victims.”)
Last year (FY08), Iowa’s local domestic abuse and sexual abuse programs served 26,934 victims – 20,042 women, 5,294 children, and 1,058 men. The programs provided 100,814 nights of safe shelter to 4,416 victims and children. Local programs provide emergency shelters, counseling, medical advocacy, crisis hotlines, guidance for victims going through criminal justice proceedings, and many other services. Most of the local programs serve huge geographic areas – some up to 6 or 8 counties – with small, low-paid staffs of dedicated professionals.
The Attorney General’s letter to lawmakers in October concluded: “We respectfully ask the Legislature and the Governor to dedicate necessary resources to crime victim assistance so we can continue to treat crime victims with the compassion, dignity, and support they deserve.”
YouTube video provided by www.victimstosurvivors.org , an effort of the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence and the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.