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Shelter Faces Layoffs As VOCA Money Diminishes

The main domestic violence shelter in Fairbanks stands to lose a half-million dollars after a federal program withered during the Trump administration.

The Interior Alaska Center for Non-Violent Living is looking at laying off staff members by July first. A federal program called the Crime Victims Fund (CVF) has been dwindling and will give a lot less money to domestic violence agencies in the states. Alaska is expecting a dramatic $6 million less than last year.

“To shrink $6 million in a 12-week period of time, for services statewide, is devastating. There’s no way we can shrink 30% and continue to do what we do.”

That’s Brenda Stanfill, the director of the IACNVL in Fairbanks.

This is not taxpayer money. It comes from criminals paying fees, fines and forfeitures.

“When people have these white-collar crimes, where they are like, ‘ok, I’ll just pay this penalty,’ this money goes into this fund, and this fund is used to help victims of crime.”

You can imagine that it is not consistent; deposits in the Crime Victims Fund fluctuate every year based on the cases that the Department of Justice successfully prosecutes. But during the last federal administration, the DoJ has used more of what’s called deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, where cases are settled, and monetary penalties go into the General Treasury rather than the Crime Victims Fund.

And that has meant some historically lean years for the Crime Victims Fund. The deposits in last four years have been $445 million, $495 million, $503 million, and $117 million (as of the end of December) respectively - deposits have not been that low since 2003.

The federal money is doled out to states by population. It comes through Alaska’s Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault. In a letter sent on April 1, CDVSA Executive Director Diane Casto wrote that Victims of Crimes Act funding would decrease by 34.6% from the previous year.

Stanfill says she will probably lay off six full-time-equivalent jobs. (IACNVL has about 80 positions of part- and full-time employees. The CVF finding is not the only source of revenue from the center, but it funds direct-service positions.)

“If we cut services, women and children will die.”

There is a bill in Congress to change the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) of 1984. It is called the VOCA Fix. (VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund.) Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski signed on to sponsor it as Senate Bill 611 in March. The bill would capture back that money from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements.

But the accounting would not stabilize enough for the fund to grow for about two years. In the meantime, shelters across the state are hoping the Alaska Legislature will put some American Rescue Plan money toward reliving domestic violence.

“So, we are going to have two years to get through. The Rescue funds can be stretched through that timeframe. If our state designates those Rescue funds to be used to fill this gap, until we can get the VOCA fix in then we won’t have to make those really hard decisions.”

More than $1 billion from the Rescue Plan was given to Alaska for the category “State Fiscal Recovery.”