Written by Michael Reese Program Director, Jennifer Rosenkranz
To heal and thrive, it is critical that survivors can access high-quality, culturally appropriate services, which may include forensic testing, counseling, legal services and advocacy.
Organizations that provide domestic violence, sexual assault and trafficking services are reliant on federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding to support staff positions. This year, there will be a significant reduction in VOCA funding, severely limiting these organizations’ ability to provide critical services.
WHY IS FUNDING REDUCED?
VOCA funding comes from federal monetary penalties from federal convictions, not from taxpayer dollars. Over the course of the last several years, the Department of Justice has increased deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements leading to a dramatic reduction in money available for VOCA grants.
To address this gap, President Biden has signed legislation that should increase VOCA funding in future years but it is not an immediate solution. Local nonprofit organizations providing gender-based services will struggle to maintain services over the next few years.
In 2022, Illinois received more than $52 million in VOCA funding. This July, it is estimated this amount will be reduced by 49%.
IMPACT OF FUNDING REDUCTION
While VOCA reductions will impact all organizations providing gender-based services, organizations providing sexual assault services will be particularly hard hit. Illinois has not substantially increased funding for sexual assault services in 20 years.
According to a survey by the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, 78% of rape crisis centers report they will be forced to lay off workers providing counseling and advocacy services. The survey also found that in 2022, 31 rape crisis centers in Illinois served 21,928 survivors of sexual assault services and 5,524 people presented at Illinois hospitals seeking treatment from sexual violence.
As it is with any decrease in funding to public health services, the people most impacted will be those who have already suffered the greatest– survivors.
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Several organizations are advocating for a $12 million increase to state funding to mitigate the impact of reduced VOCA funding.
Since its inception, Michael Reese Health Trust has recognized domestic violence as a critical public health issue, centering it as a dedicated priority for the past 5 years. In 2023, we provided $1.6 million in funding to Chicagoland domestic violence services supporting prevention, innovative service models, services for people who cause harm and advancing advocacy efforts.
Support from the philanthropic sector along with public support is critical to meeting all survivors’ needs, especially in the face of a substantial cut in VOCA funding.
You can find more information on what organizations across Illinois are doing to mitigate the impact of reduced VOCA funding by visiting https://www.ourresilience.org/support-us/voca/.