Mr. Speaker, before I came to Congress, I spent my other life in the criminal justice system, first as a prosecutor in Texas, and then as a criminal court judge for over 22 years. I heard about 20,000 to 25,000 felony cases during that time, everything from stealing to killing. I saw a lot of people come to the courthouse, and most of those individuals did not want to be there. That included defendants, but it also included victims of crime.
Victims were people from all types of backgrounds. Mr. Speaker, they all had something in common. They were a silent group of people who were preyed on by criminals. After the crime was over, many suffered for years.
Finally, Congress came up with a novel idea, a law that established the Crime Victims Fund to support victims of crime. But instead of using taxpayer money for the fund, Congress had a different idea. Why not force the criminals, the traffickers, the abusers, and other folks to pay for restitution for the victims of crime. They inflicted pain and suffering on innocent people. They should be the ones to pay for that.
So in 1984, when President Ronald Reagan was President, he signed the Victims of Crime Act, otherwise known to us as VOCA. Because of this new law, convicted felons in Federal Court are assessed fees and fines and must pay into the Crime Victims Fund. The money in this fund is to be used for a wide range of victim services:
It establishes and takes care of domestic violence shelters, where spouses can hide from their abusers.
It establishes rape crisis coalition centers.
It promotes and sends money to victim advocates throughout the United States who go to court with victims of crime, especially violent crime.
It gives victims restitution and pays for critical medical and counseling programs.
It also goes to train police officers. It does a lot of good things and is wisely spent by the Angels of Compassion in victim services that help restore victims.
Over the years, because our Federal judges have continued to fine and assess greater penalties to criminals, the VOCA fund, as of today, holds approximately $12 billion. That is a lot of money, even for Washington, D.C. What a wonderful idea.
And let me make it clear once again:
This is not taxpayer funded money. Criminals paid for this. Criminals are paying the rent on the courthouse and they are paying for the system that they have created.
So what is the problem?
Well, the problem is, Mr. Speaker, only a fraction of that money is spent each year for victims, depriving them of needed services and that money. More money continues to go in the fund every year because less and less of a percentage of it is spent, thus, the $12 billion.
Mr. Speaker, the fund, every year, is robbed, literally, by Congress to offset the costs of totally unrelated things, literally stealing money from the victims and sending that money to the abyss of the Federal Treasury to offset special pet projects. That money does not belong to Congress to spend on anything other than victims of crime. It belongs to the victims who have endured suffering and abuse.
Victims do not have a high-priced, high-dollar lobbyist to come up here to Washington and advocate on their behalf to get the money that they are entitled to. That is our responsibility, Congress’ responsibility. They expect us to be their voice.
JIM COSTA from California and I are co-chairs of the Victims’ Rights Caucus, and we believe the first responsibility of government is to protect the innocent, especially those robbed, pillaged, and sexually assaulted by crime.
Congress needs to quit stealing the money from victims and giving it to other projects. We must stop this robbing by bureaucrats, taking money out of the crime fund, so that we can ensure victims have access to the resources that they need to become survivors of crime.
To achieve this goal, Representative JIM COSTA and I have reintroduced the Crime Victims Fund Preservation Act. This bill creates a ‘‘lockbox’’ to ensure that money in the fund cannot be used for anything other than victims’ programs authorized under the law of the VOCA statute in 1984.
Victims must be rescued and taken care of. The bill ensures the money that victims are entitled to is in a safe place from pilfering hands. Give the victims a fighting chance, and do not continue to victimize them more by taking restitution money from them. It is just wrong to play this financial ledger mumbo-jumbo that Congress plays every year to take money away from victims and give it to other projects.
Don’t touch victims’ money. It is just wrong, Mr. Speaker.
And that is just the way it is.