On July 7, 2015, Senators Barrasso (R-WY) and Tester (D-MT), Chair and Ranking Member, respectively, of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, introduced S 1704, legislation to establish a dedicated funding stream for tribes from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF). Joining as original co-sponsors were Senators Moran (R-KS); Murkowski (R-AK); Daines (R-MT); Schatz (D-HI); Heitkamp (D-ND); Hoeven (R-ND); and Udall (D-NM). This legislation provides a major opportunity for tribes: the provision of direct tribal access to the CVF. Direct access has long been a priority for tribes and Indian organizations and it was a recommendation of the 2012 Attorney General’s Task Force on Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence.
The bill is entitled the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victims Empowerment Act (SURVIVE Act) and it was referred to the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs. S 1704 can be found at http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/BILLS-114s1704is/pdf/BILLS-114s1704is.pdf.
July 14 Webinar. The National Congress of American Indians and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center will host a webinar on the legislation on Tuesday, July 14, 12:30 p.m. Eastern time, with Mike Andrews, Majority Staff Director for the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, as a participant.
Current Structure. The CVF is not funded through federal appropriations, but rather through the collection of fines and penalties via federal courts. Congress, in turn, decides how much of the fund can be allocated each fiscal year, most of which is distributed via formula to states for crime victim services and assistance. For FY 2015, there is $2.3 billion available from the CVF. Currently, tribes may only access these funds by applying to states, and very little funding ends up going to tribes—usually only 0.7 percent or less per fiscal year—despite federal data indicating a disproportionate rate of need.
Changes Proposed by the Bill. The bill would instead allocate five percent of the available CVF funds per fiscal year to the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Support to be administered in the form of a competitive grant program for tribes. Up to four percent of these funds could be utilized by the Office of Justice Support for administrative expenses, the management and administration of grants and training and technical assistance. No tribal match would be required.
The allowed uses of these tribal grant funds, which must be directly related to the harm suffered by victimization, would be very broad including: medical expenses; loss of wages; funeral expenses; counseling; housing; shelter; improved investigation and prosecution; repair of facilities; communications related to safety and security; transportation; and increased tribal capacity to provide services to victims.
Key Timeframes. The grant program authorized by S 1704 would be authorized for a ten-year period. Regulations would be required to be promulgated, in consultation with tribes, within 90 days of enactment. The Office of Justice Support would be required to award funding to grantees within 180 days of funds becoming available. Grantees would have an additional five fiscal years after the fiscal year in which funds were awarded to obligate the awarded funds. Unobligated funds at the end of this time period would be returned to the Office to be awarded to other grantees the following fiscal year.
Growing Support. The issue of tribal direct access to the CVF is gaining attention in Congress. For instance, the Senate Appropriations Committee in its FY 2016 Commerce-Justice-Science bill (HR 2578) would specifically allocate $52 million of the CVF for tribes, a first on this issue. Also, the House Appropriations Committee report (H. Rept. 114-66) accompanying the FY 2016 Commerce-Justice-Science bill notes a modest increase in the overall CVF allocation and directs the Department of Justice to confer with tribes about their need for such funds.
Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding the S 1704, the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victims Empowerment Act.