Tribal nations have long advocated for amending the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) to allow Tribes to access VOCA funding on a direct government to government basis.The Office of Victims of Crime (OVC) was established in 1988 through an amendment of the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA). The OVC is charged by Congress with administering the Crime Victims Fund. Through OVC, this fund supports a broad array of programs and services that focus on helping victims in the immediate aftermath of crime and continuing to support them as they rebuild their lives.
In recent years, the OVC held listening sessions with Tribal leaders, representatives, and advocates to discuss victim needs for crime victims’ services in Indian Country.
These consultation and listening sessions resulted in several recommendations being acted upon that were announced on August 6, 2020. They include:
- A Tribal Division was created to streamline the distribution and management of tribal grant awards and ensure the OVC is adequately staffed to meet the needs of American Indian and Alaska Native communities.
- The Victims of Crime Tribal Financial Management Center (OVC TFMC) was also launched to provide training, technical assistance and resources to support Native American and Alaskan Natives.
- A formula was developed to address the allocation of tribal set-aside funds.
“Tribal leaders have strongly advocated for the establishment of a Tribal Division, similar to that of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW),”
said Liz Carr, Senior Policy Analyst for the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center (NIWRC). The benefits of having a Tribal Division include having a high-level deputy director with a working knowledge of tribes and an office staffed by people with experience working in Indian Country or at the very least having a good understanding of the barriers faced in tribal communities.
What are Tribal Set-Aside Funds?
For the third time since 2018, Congress authorized set-aside funding from the Crime Victims Fund for a tribal victim services program to provide support to tribal communities and improve services for victims of crime, consistent with the requirements of the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).
Although Congress recognized the need in tribal communities and developed a 5% set-aside through the appropriations process, the set-aside funding is not considered permanent funding which not only presents future programming issues, it hinders future designs on programs.
“Basically, there is nothing specific in the current Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) as it pertains to funding for Tribes,” explained Carr. “However, there is legislation being proposed to address the permanency of the tribal set-aside funds. The Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victim Empowerment “SURVIVE Act” would authorize 5% set-aside funding. This bill would amend VOCA and authorize more permanent funding for tribal victim service programs.”
Tribal Set-Aside and StrongHearts
In August 2019, StrongHearts Native Helpline (StrongHearts) was the recipient of two grants from the Office of Victims of Crime to enhance services over the next three years.
“These two grants were funded through the tribal set-aside,” said StrongHearts Director Lori Jump. “Over the three year period, we will have received nearly $3 million to enhance and grow our operations. To date, we have been able to increase the number of victim-survivors that we help by introducing online chat advocacy and adding sexual violence advocacy to our advocate’s repertoire. Future plans include offering round-the-clock advocacy (24/7) and adding a text by phone option.”
Improved Access Still Needs Work
“These resources should be a permanent set-aside for tribal programs that are administered by the Tribes they serve,” added Jump. She explained that without funding for victims of crime, the need for justice and healing could not be provided to tribal members who have long suffered the consequences of the anti-Indian policies that were enacted to displace Indigenous peoples.
“Native Americans continue to be poverty-stricken and are in dire need of the service that we so desperately want to provide,” said Jump. “Considering Native women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or be a victim of sexual assault than any other ethnic group, StrongHearts Native Helpline serves as a potential lifeline for survivors of these crimes.”