Tuesday night, Congress unveiled a bill that will fund most of the federal government through September 2015. Overall, the bill keeps funding levels relatively constant. But it quadruples the amount of federal money going to crime victims: from $745 million this year to $2.36 billion in 2015.
If this seems like an uncharacteristic move from a Congress that's generally made cuts to service programs, it's because it is. But the catch is that Congress isn't actually giving more tax dollars to victim services. It's just allowing the federal Crime Victims Fund to spend more of the money it already has — about 67 percent of it, compared to 25 percent in recent years.
The government collects billions of dollars in criminal fines — but it's only allowed to spend a fraction of that money
When someone is convicted of a federal crime and has to pay a fine as part of his sentence, that money is required to go into the federal Crime Victims Fund. Billions of dollars go into the fund each year. But the Office for Victims of Crime, which runs the fund, is only allowed to spend part of that money each year — to make sure the money doesn't run out.
Congress didn't need to worry about that. Instead, the amount of money that goes into the fund every year has kept increasing, the amount of money that is allowed to come out has remained pretty flat up to now:
The sequester — the severe government cuts of the last few years — made it so that even less money was available to come out of the Crime Victims Fund.
Some of the Crime Victims Fund money goes directly to victims — mostly for medical services, but also for everything from forensic exams (like rape kits) to compensation for lost wages. The rest of it goes to community organizations that help victims — primarily domestic-violence survivors — with crisis counseling, legal representation, and other services.
According to federal statistics from grant reports, those organizations helped about 3.5 million victims of crimes in 2012. But that's fewer than they were able to help before spending cuts hit: in 2007, organizations used victim assistance grants to help 4.1 million crime victims.