Federal bill would release money to crime victims

Greg Gross

Two Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced legislation that would make sure federal crime victims' funds would actually go to victim service groups.

For years, the federal government has raided the Crime Victims Fund, shorting victim organizations, such as domestic violence shelters, child advocacy center and rape crisis centers billions of dollars, said U.S. Rep. Scott Perry, R-York County.

The money "is being, literally, siphoning off — stolen," he said.

Between 2010 and 2014, the Crime Victims Fund collected $12 billion from criminals convicted in federal courts. But only $3.6 billion, or 30 percent, made it to crime victims. The remaining $8.4 billion was used to fund other areas of government, Perry said.

Perry co-sponsored a bill, H.R. 3984, along with fellow Pennsylvania GOP Congressmen Joe Pitts and Brendan Boyle, that would not allow Congress to otherwise use the victims' funds. Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., has a similar bill in the Senate.

Locally: If the bill is signed into law, it would mean added dollars for local victims' programs, such as the YWCA York's Access-York and Victim's Assistance Center, said Chief Services Officer Rick Azzaro.

Turning Point, a York City-based women's counseling and advocacy center, could potentially use it to help more woman who has been abused, said Debra Stock, its executive director.

Though the organization relies on donations now, it would apply for grants funded using the Crime Victims Fund to issue counseling services scholarships, allowing it to reach more women.

When Turning Points scholarship runs out, it has to turn women away at the door, which can be traumatizing, Stock said.

"It's tough for us to turn them away, too," she said.

Though some members of Congress see the Crime Victims Fund as a resource to fund other areas of government, Perry said, he's hopeful the bills will gain traction and becoming law.

Because as it stands, "they know there's a fund that they can continue to raid," Perry said.

— Reach Greg Gross at ggross@yorkdispatch.com.