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The mission of the National Association of Crime Victim Compensation Boards is to provide leadership, professional development, and collaborative opportunities to our members to strengthen their capacity to improve services to crime victims and survivors.  We share a vision of working together so that every victim compensation program is fully funded, optimally staffed, and functioning effectively to help victims cope with the costs of crime.

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VOCA and State Compensation Programs: An Unofficial Guide

This article is directed toward compensation program managers, in an effort to put all the provisions in VOCA relating to compensation programs in a one-page, unofficial nutshell.  However, only the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice has authority, to set standards for compensation programs.  See the main "VOCA" tab on this website to link to the VOCA statute and guidelines.

The Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA) authorizes valuable supplemental funding to each state compensation program that meets certain basic conditions.  But the large majority of compensation funding comes from states sources -- chiefly criminal fines -- and all authority to make decisions on individual claims rests with state programs, using state law to make those determinations.  Still, compensation program managers must be cognizant of how to keep their programs eligible for VOCA grants by meeting the conditions described below.

Compensable Crimes and Victims. You must offer compensation to victims and survivors of victims of criminal violence, but no specific compensable crimes are mandated except for drunk driving and domestic violence (these crimes are singled out for special attention because there was a time in the 1980s when a number of programs didn't cover these offenses). You're also directed to cover crimes involving damage to religious property, especially when racially motivated, but your coverage need only be for costs relating to the physical injury or death that might be involved, not for the property damage itself. You're free to cover any other crimes, including nonviolent economic crimes, if you wish to. In fact, current OVC guidelines encourage you to do so, without making it mandatory, and you can use federal funds for nonviolent crimes, or include state payments for those crimes in your payout total for purposes of calculating your federal grant.

Mandated Expenses. You must pay for medical expenses, mental health counseling, and lost wages if those are attributable to physical injury, and you must cover funeral expenses as well. Beyond these, you can cover anything else you like – except:

Property Damage: VOCA prohibits the use of federal funds for only one thing: property damage. You can use state funds to pay for property damage, but you cannot include payments for property damage in the state-dollar total used to calculate your VOCA grant. There are a few exceptions: property damage does not include eyeglasses and medical and dental prostheses, and items necessary for security, such as windows and locks. It's important to remember that VOCA doesn't prohibit paying for items that would be considered property, but rather only for repairing property damage. You're allowed to pay for modifications to vehicles and homes for disabled victims, for example. But repairing or replacing property would be forbidden, except for locks and windows, and medical prostheses.

Victim Cooperation. You must “promote victim cooperation with the reasonable requests of law enforcement authorities,” but this does not mean you need to require a police report in every instance. You're free to be flexible, taking into account the victim's health and safety concerns, her age and psychological condition, as well as cultural and linguistic barriers. Requiring that sexual assault victims only submit to a forensic examination is enough; so are reports to child and adult protective services. Essentially, you're free to interpret what “victim cooperation” means according to your own state law and rules, so long as you do something to promote it.

Supplantation. You can't use federal funds to supplant state funds otherwise available for compensating victims; however, simply spending your VOCA grant is never considered supplantation. As a practical matter, no state has ever been accused of supplantation, even though the vagaries of state budgets may mean reductions and increases of state funding from one year to the next.

Nonresidents. You must offer eligibility to any U.S. citizen victimized in your state, regardless of where that person is from.  VOCA does not require you to cover your residents victimized in foreign countries, even if those crimes are terrorism. OVC has its own program to compensate victims of international terrorism.

Federal Crimes. You must cover victims of federal crimes, to the same extent you'd cover a victim of that crime if it had occurred under state jurisdiction. This doesn't mean you have to cover all federal crimes, such as nonviolent or white-collar offenses; but only that you can't exclude someone just because the crime happened to occur in a national park, or on an Indian reservation, or a military base.

Unjust Enrichment. You can't deny domestic violence victims solely because they share a residence with the offender or because they're in the same family. However, you can deny a claim if you believe your payment would “unjustly enrich” an offender substantially (for example, if he is living with the victim, and the payment would be appropriated by him or used to support him in a substantial way), so long as you have written rules that guide your decision making in this area.

Delinquent Federal Criminal Debt. You're instructed by VOCA to deny payments to federal offenders who are delinquent in paying fines and restitution – but this provision becomes effective only if and when the U.S. ever develops a readily accessible database providing criminal debt tracking information. Don't worry about this one for now or in the foreseeable future; such a database is not even in development.

Federal Benefit Programs. One VOCA provision is directed more toward federal benefit programs than state compensation programs: VOCA says your payment of compensation to a victim should not affect that victim's eligibility for any federal benefit the victim has been receiving or could qualify for, so long as your payment and that federal benefit, added together, don't exceed the victim's actual loss from the crime. The federal benefit can't be reduced, either. OVC Director John Gillis has sent letters to all relevant federal agency heads asking for compliance (copies of this correspondence are available).

Last Payer. Your program is a last payer in relationship to all federal benefit programs. If a victim's expense or loss would be covered by a federal benefit program like Medicaid, Veterans Administration, Indian Health Services, or Social Security, as well as by you, you “shall not pay” that compensation, and the federal benefit shall be paid “without regard to the existence” of your program. While other federal benefit programs may protest that they also have last-payer provisions in their governing laws, VOCA wins out, since its last-payer provision is Congress's most specific directive on this issue. A Congressional Report also specifically names Medicaid, V.A., and I.H.S. as examples of programs that should pay first before state victim compensation.  See this discussion about VOCA's last payer provision for more information

Required Reports: There are three major reports that you must complete:
(1) An annual Performance Report, due December 30 of each year, that provides statistical information about your claims and payouts.
(2) An annual State Certification Form, due when you file your grant application each spring.  This form calculates the amount of state funds used to pay benefits, and becomes the basis for your VOCA grant in the next fiscal year.  For example, if you submit the Certification Form in the spring of 2011 when you apply for your federal fiscal year 2011 grant, the form will be used to calculate your federal grant for fiscal year 2012.
(3) The Quarterly Financial Report, which is submitted every three months through OVC's grant management system (GMS).