A unanimous Senate vote refilled the coffers for the Crime Victims Fund, breathing in new life to the dwindling pot of money that helps crime victims and survivors gain a new lease on life, reports Roll Call and The Hill.
On the nearly unheard-of 100-0 tally Tuesday, the Senate pushed forward a House-passed measure providing financial rescue for the fund to be signed by President Joe Biden.
If the Senate didn’t vote to provide financial rescue for the Crime Victims Fund, Attorney General Merrick B. Garland told senators that there might only be $400 million left in the victims fund at the end of the fiscal 2022 year — compared to the $13 billion in the fund five years ago, according to Roll Call.
The Crime Victims Fund is a Justice Department program, which uses fines and penalties imposed on defendants in criminal court cases to provide counseling, shelter, lost wages, health care costs, or funeral expenses to victims and survivors of crime, Roll Call details.
The money can also be allocated for other costs needed to get someone’s life back on track following a violent or traumatic event, like prosthetic devices, and crime scene clean-up.
“It’s helped thousands and thousands of Americans during the most challenging moments of their lives,” Senate Majority Leader Charles E. Schumer said in floor remarks Tuesday. Before the unanimous vote, Schumer warned that the program was “in danger of going into the red.”
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) pointed to the bill as an example of the Senate being able to do “some bipartisan legislating,” The Hill details.
In his remarks before the vote, McConnel spoke about the importance of the legislation passing.
“This fund needs to rest on firm financial footing. But right now, it doesn’t. Its balance has been shrinking fast. Congress needs to act to prevent big cuts to victims’ services, particularly in rural areas,” McConnell added.
New Source of Revenue
Not only did this vote breathe new life into the fund, but it’s also giving the fund a new source of revenue: “money from out-of-court settlements, such as deferred prosecution agreements, that have become increasingly common in recent years as the number of criminal cases that go all the way to convictions has declined,” Roll Call explained.
The money from out-of-court settlement dollars currently goes into “general revenue” while only financial penalties associated with criminal cases go to the Crime Victims Fund.
Because of this new source of income, Roll Call details, the program will have $7.5 billion over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimates.
While the vote was unanimous, the vote wasn’t without protest.
Some Conservatives, led by retiring Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, (R-Pa), say the program is often used as a “slush fund” to finance other domestic priorities while evading spending caps.
Toomey offered an amendment ahead of the vote, saying he wanted to ensure that the money in the fund went towards victims.
“It was an abuse based on an arcane and ridiculous budget rule,” Toomey voiced.
Toomey’s amendment would set a minimum threshold for spending, requiring Congress to spend “no less than the average annual amount deposited into the fund during the preceding three fiscal years,” although the provision could be waived with a three-fifths vote.
But Appropriations Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, (D-Vt), said the amendment risks drawing down the fund too quickly in years when revenue declines, Roll Call explains.
Lindsey Graham, (R-S.C.), a key backer of the underlying bill, said he would “reluctantly” oppose the amendment, citing opposition from victims organizations.
Ultimately, many Republicans noted that they would re-address the matter in the future.
Additional Reading: Technological Glitches Snarl DOJ Aid to Victim Services, say Justice Groups
Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.