There are 56 state and territorial attorneys general. We represent wildly different viewpoints and constituencies, but we are all Americans, representing common values and common priorities. Bipartisanship isn’t just a privilege for our most important work; it’s a necessity, and we actively seek out opportunities to come together and work on our nation’s most important issues.
Now, in a time of crisis, it is more critical than ever for our leaders to work together and solve problems on behalf of our residents. As chief legal officers of our states and territories, we serve as counselors to our governments and defenders of the public interest. Our role is to advocate for the public, regardless of partisan identity. And for us, there’s no other area where we agree more than when it comes to making sure victims of crime and their families have the support they need.
In the course of our work, we regularly meet people whose lives have been upended by tragedy. They are looking for assistance and support, not only to address physical and emotional trauma in the aftermath of a homicide, sexual assault or other violent crime, but to receive financial help.
One of the most important roles of our offices is the distribution of federal money to victims and families to defray costs that emerge due to violent crime. There are often difficult financial circumstances to take into account, including medical expenses, funeral and burial costs, counseling, temporary housing and lost wages, as just a few examples.
This is not unique to Montana or Massachusetts or to Democrats, Republicans, or independents: the 56 state and territory attorneys general share this responsibility and prioritize this work. And that’s why funding from the federal government is so critical in supporting state victim compensation programs and grants to our local service providers.
In August, the nation’s attorneys general laid out a bipartisan blueprint to bolster the Crime Victims Fund. The fund, established by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, is the primary source of victims’ assistance across the nation. The fund covers services and support to victims and survivors of violent crime; domestic, child, and sexual assault; identity theft, internet fraud and many more offenses. More than 2.5 million new victims received assistance, including financial restitution, from the fund between 2015 and 2019.
The fund has been an essential program for so many in need who are experiencing what could be the most difficult time of their lives. Yet, as distributions have increased, revenue for the fund has dramatically decreased. A decrease in funding will result in a decrease in the number of victims and survivors served and will mean the potential loss of essential staff for victim service programs.
In a letter to Congress, state attorneys general made three recommendations to stabilize the Crime Victims Fund, including redirecting into the fund any fines and fees paid to the Department of Justice from corporate misconduct deferred and non-prosecution agreements, and increasing the rate of reimbursement to state programs from 60 percent to 75 percent. Additionally, VOCA currently requires recipients to spend grants within four years, but we believe that term should be extended, so state and local organizations can better plan and predict funding for long-term services.
Now is the time for public officials to respectfully and thoughtfully work together on the many challenges and issues confronting our states and our nation. The experience of state attorneys general shows that it is indeed possible to collaborate in a bipartisan manner to serve and improve the lives of Americans across the country.
From the historic Master Settlement Agreement with tobacco companies, which greatly contributed to decreasing America’s smoking rate, to multistate consumer protection settlements shielding citizens from unfair, misleading, and deceptive corporate practices, to other unanimous congressional policy letters on fentanyl abuse, violence against women, and workplace sexual harassment, attorneys general of both parties have worked together constructively to push important legal and policy changes.
We all agree on the importance of the Crime Victims Fund; we have seen firsthand the difference it can make to victims and their families. Helping them recover has always been, and will always be, a priority in our offices and across all levels of government. We urge Congress to adopt these changes and get families the support they need and deserve.
Tim Fox, a Republican, is the attorney general of Montana and president of the National Association of Attorneys General. Maura Healey, a Democrat, is the attorney general of Massachusetts.
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