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Ann Wagner asks Biden to sign VOCA fix quickly

Following its unanimous passage in the U.S. Senate Tuesday evening, Congresswoman Ann Wagner is imploring President Joe Biden to sign the bipartisan package funding victim advocacy groups. 

The VOCA (Victims Crime Act) Fix to Sustain the Crime Victims Fund Act glided out of the upper chamber after passing the House in March. It adds revenues collected from deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements to the Crime Victims Fund and allows states to waive matching requirements for state grants for one year following a pandemic. 

As the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns, reports of domestic and family violence increased. Yet due to changes in how the Justice Department has handled federal crimes that typically funded VOCA — moving to deferred or nonprosecution agreements — nonprofits across the country aiding domestic and sexual violence victims saw detrimental funding cuts. Some had to shutter their doors

“VOCA funding is absolutely necessary to survivor recovery. We are at risk of a devastating funding crisis for victims if the VOCA Fix is not signed into law,” Wagner, a Republican representing Missouri’s 2nd congressional district, said. 

Wagner, a vocal champion of the VOCA fix, estimated Missouri would see about a 25 percent cut in funding if the bill is not signed into law. The fund aids victims as they navigate the court system, seek health care, or pay medical and funeral costs. 

“We’ve got so many innocent children and other victims of very serious crimes that are now going to be able to get the services that they need and really stop these catastrophic cuts … on the chopping block here. After the pandemic, the need is so great,” Wagner told The Missouri Times in an interview. 

“This is critical legislation that will ensure that victims services organizations in the state of Missouri and beyond will continue to provide the services children and other victims of serious crimes need to heal and build their lives,” Wagner continued. “It’s a frightening and dangerous time. We needed to make sure this grant was funded so the most vulnerable in our society can receive services and recover.” 

Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence (MCADSV), said: “We are so incredibly grateful for all the support from the Missouri legislators. This has been our No. 1 federal policy priority for over a year. It will help ensure that when a survivor is in need, there’s someplace to go and someone to help.” 

“Fundamentally, this is about ensuring that kids get the services they need and deserve,” Teresa Huizar, the executive director of the National Children’s Alliance, said. “The Crime Victims Fund, dangerously low, will now be replenished by making those facing deferred prosecutions and non-prosecution agreements pay for the needs of victims. Children’s Advocacy Center services to the kids we serve are now on a sustainable path for the future. Among our many champions in Congress, we’d like to thank Congresswoman Ann Wagner of Missouri who played an indispensable role leading this effort to get the VOCA Fix Act across the finish line.”

Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmit joined a letter from the National Association of Attorneys General last year imploring Congress to adopt VOCA fixes. 

Wagner said she tried to get the fixes attached to the spending bill last year, but took a different, bipartisan and bicameral approach this go-round. New York Congressman Jerry Nadler, a Democrat, was the main sponsor of H.R. 1652, and Wagner co-sponsored. 

“This critical piece of legislation will shore up the Crime Victims Fund, ensuring that programs and services assisting victims of crime are more effective, more reliably funded, and more accessible to those who may depend upon them,” Nadler said in a joint statement with Texas Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee. “Victims of crime and victim service providers can now rest assured that help is finally here.”