Victims' groups apply for funding

By Ed Brock

It's anybody's game as agencies dedicated to helping the victims of crime compete for this year's round of state grants.

The state's Criminal Justice Coordinating Council was recently awarded a $12.34 million grant from the Fiscal Year 2003 Crime Victims Fund, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Atlanta.

"We must consistently be aware of our obligation to the victims of crime," said U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia William S. Duffey Jr. "These funds help provide them with a necessary safety net and I am pleased this award has been made available to our state."

But this year, instead of simply giving money to agencies that have been receiving the grants for several years, those agencies will have to apply for the grants along with any other agency that has not received CJCC funding before.

The reason for the change is a $900,000 shortfall in the amount of money from the fund, created by the Victim of Crime Act, CJCC Division Director of Grants Administration Joe Hood said.

For several reasons Congress put a $625 million cap on the amount of money the fund could disburse nationwide. Also, part of the VOCA money is used to reimburse states for money they paid to crime victims directly for expenses such as medical bills, lost wages, mental health counseling and funeral expenses.

The amount of that money was increased from 40 percent of what each state paid in compensation to 60 percent, and Hood said that means less money for grants to victims' service programs.

This year, $2,304,000 will be put into Georgia's Crime Victim Compensation Fund, which is also administered by the CJCC. At 60 percent of what the state paid in 2001 for compensation, that is the largest amount the state has received, Hood said.

That leaves $10,035,000 for grants to individual victims' services agencies. Due to the 6 percent shortfall in money available for the individual grants, the CJCC's Crime Victims Assistance Advisory Committee chose to open the funding application process up to competition.

"If certain groups have a better need or a greater need or they compete better in the application they have an opportunity to get funds," Hood said.

The deadline for applying for the funds is July 15 at 4:30 p.m. and late applications will not be accepted. The CJCC should be disbursing the money to various victims' service providers around the state in the fall.

Some of the qualifications for getting money are how many victims the agency serviced previously, the kind of area they are in and other services available in those areas. Another option the advisory committee considered was simply cutting all the agencies' funds by 6 percent, but the competition may allow new agencies to get funded and will not necessarily mean established agencies will get less money.

"Somebody definitely has to be cut because you have a $900,000 shortfall," Hood said.

With the new competition some agencies are concerned about their own budgets.

"It's a good thing for organizations that haven't been able to apply before, but for agencies that have been applying for some time we don't know if we'll get the same amount," said Jennifer Bivins, director of the Southern Crescent Sexual Assault Center that serves Clayton and Henry counties.

The CJCC money usually makes up $145,000 of the SCSAC's $300,000 annual budget and Bivins said she plans to apply for $200,000 this year.

"I'm just going to hold my breath and hope for the best," Bivins said. "If I receive less than ($145,000) I'm going to have to make some rearrangements – we'll survive, it's just a matter of what we'll be able to do."

The Flint Circuit Council on Family Violence, which operates the Haven House shelter for victims of spousal abuse, will probably apply for the $190,000 they usually receive each year, Director of Operations Tish Vallalay said.

"I don't know if anybody has an expectation of anything anymore. They've taken it right back down to a level playing field," Vallalay said.

As Henry County continues to grow, so does the demand for the council's services, making money tight, Vallalay said. They'll need at least $150,000 from the CJCC or they'll have to look for other sources of income.

"We're going to be relying on the community to support us more and we know it's tough out there so it's going to be tough on the community as well," Vallalay said.

The state's Prosecuting Attorneys Council is considering applying for a block grant that might get more money for their victims' services divisions all together even though some offices might get less, Henry County District Attorney Tommy Floyd said.

"Fortunately my victims services division is structured so it is not dependent on that grant," Floyd said.

The VOCA money does fund a $20,000 position within the division, Floyd said.

Money for the fund comes from federal criminal fees, penalty assessments and bond forfeitures collected by United States Attorneys' Offices and Federal Courts.

The U.S. Justice Department's Office of Justice Programs' Office for Victims of Crime in Washington, D.C. is the conduit between collection of the funds and distribution of the funds to states.