GM 17-053

Bipartisan Group of Senators Reintroduce Bill to Provide Tribes with Dedicated Set-Aside from Crime Victims Fund

On September 27, 2017, Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Hoeven (R-ND)
re-introduced as S 1870, the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victims Empowerment Act (SURVIVE Act), legislation to establish a dedicated funding stream for tribes from the Crime Victims Fund (CVF). Joining as original co-sponsors were Senators: McCain (R-AZ); Heitkamp (D-ND); Cortez-Masto (D-NV); Franken (D-MN); Daines (R-MT); Tester (D-MT); and Barrasso (R-WY). This legislation provides a major opportunity for tribes: the provision of direct tribal access to the CVF.

The Victims of Crime Act has two formula grant programs, one focusing on crime victim compensation, the other on victim assistance. The compensation program provides financial assistance and reimbursement to victims for crime-related out-of-pocket expenses, such as health care, counseling, and lost income. The assistance program supports many victim assistance programs nationwide who provide services such as counseling, referrals, shelter and criminal justice support.

Context. Direct access has long been a priority for tribes and Indian organizations and it was a recommendation of the 2012 Attorney General’s Task Force on Indian and Alaska Native Children Exposed to Violence. The first iteration of the SURVIVE Act was introduced in the previous Congress by then-Senate Committee on Indian Affairs Chairman Barrasso (R-WY) as S 1704, but ultimately not enacted. (See our General Memorandum 15-050 of July 10, 2015). The main difference between S 1870 and the previous iteration of this legislation is that S 1870 would make the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime the lead office to administer the tribal grants while previous version would have made the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ Office of Justice Support the lead office.

Current Structure. The CVF is not funded through federal appropriations, but rather through the collection of fines and penalties via federal courts. Congress, in turn, decides how much of the fund can be allocated each fiscal year, most of which is distributed via formula to states for crime victim services and assistance. For FY 2017, there is $2.57 billion available from the CVF. Currently, tribes may only access these funds by applying to states, and very little funding ends up going to tribes—usually only 0.7 percent or less per fiscal year—despite federal data indicating a disproportionate rate of need.

Changes Proposed by the Bill. The bill would instead allocate five percent of the available CVF funds per fiscal year to the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime to be administered in the form of a competitive grant program for tribes. Up to four percent of these funds could be utilized by the Office for Victims of Crime for administrative expenses, the management and administration of grants and training and technical assistance. No tribal match would be required.

Key Timeframes. The grant program authorized by S 1870 would be authorized for a ten-year period. Not later than 60 days after the bill’s enactment, a notice initiating the Negotiated Rulemaking process would be required to be published in the FEDERAL REGISTER, with the process to be completed not later than 180 days after that publication and final regulations promulgated not later than one year after the bill’s enactment. Not later than 60 days after the negotiated rulemaking is complete, a notice soliciting applications for grants would be required to be published in the FEDERAL REGISTER. Grant funds would be required to be disbursed not later than January 31 of each fiscal year. Grantees would have an additional five fiscal years after the fiscal year in which funds were awarded to obligate their awarded funds. At the end of this time period, any unobligated funds would be required to be returned and awarded to other grantees the following fiscal year.

Growing Support—but Challenges Remain. The issue of direct tribal access to the CVF continues to gain attention in Congress. Once again, Members of Congress, in addition to supporting stand-alone legislation to amend the Crime Victims Fund, are also working in parallel to include language in FY 2018 Appropriations bills to provide the tribal set-aside. The Senate Appropriations Committee’s FY 2018 Commerce-Justice-Science appropriations bill S 1662 contains a five percent tribal set-aside. Prior to a vote on the House floor, the House’s FY 2018 Omnibus appropriations bill had contained a five percent tribal set-aside. However, that language was dropped from the bill after House Judiciary Committee Chairman Goodlatte (R-VA) raised a point of order against it. We understand that Chairman Goodlatte argued that specifying a tribal set-aside from the fund would constitute legislating on an appropriations bill and that such a provision should instead be considered under the jurisdiction of his Committee. As of this writing, the federal government is operating under a Continuing Resolution that runs through December 8, 2017. Before that time, Congress will need to work out a deal on the terms and conditions for the remainder of FY 2018 or pass another Continuing Resolution. In FY 2017, tribal provisions had been included in both House and Senate appropriations bills but were somehow removed during the behind the scenes negotiations to craft the FY 2017 Omnibus. It remains to be seen whether this will happen again during FY 2018 negotiations. On October 25, 2017, the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs held a hearing on a trio of tribal justice bills, one of them being S 1870.

Please let us know if we may provide additional information regarding the S 1870, the Securing Urgent Resources Vital to Indian Victims Empowerment Act.