Crime Victims Get A Boost From the Stimulus
By Amy Lester, Oklahoma Impact Team
OKLAHOMA CITY -- The Department of Justice is providing more than $1 million federal stimulus dollars to Oklahoma to help victims of crime.
"This is an additional injection of money at times when the economy is not doing well and this is going to help stabilize local communities by helping people who really take in an extra hard hit," said Hannah August, DOJ Spokesperson.
Some of the money will hire employees to assist victims of violent crime.
"I feel very lucky," said Amanda Rogers, Librarian for the Oklahoma Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault. "I think it's important to have something like this that the tax dollars go to.
Roger's position is funded by stimulus dollars.
The Oklahoma District Attorneys Council is in charge of distributing some of the crime victims' stimulus dollars. Agencies will receive more than $700,000 in grants to hire employees to assist victims of crime. The District Attorneys Council will also compensate victims of violent crime with about $360,000 stimulus dollars. That money goes toward funeral expenses, lost wages, medical bills and other services related to the crime.
"There's really no other resources out there to assist victims with their out of pocket expenses. This is really the only thing that they can turn to," said Suzanne Breedlove Heckmaster, Director of Victims Services for the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council.
This is the first time tax dollars will go toward these programs.
"I was surprised that a program funded by non taxpayer dollars would be included in the whole stimulus package," Heckmaster said.
The victim's assistance and compensation programs are typically funded by the Federal Crime Victims Fund.
That fund consists of fines and fees paid to the government by criminals. Right now, there's $1.6 billion in the fund.
"The money is just sitting there and it really needs to be distributed to the states," Heckmaster said.
The Department of Justice cannot distribute the money without Congress giving the okay. Currently, Congress has put a cap on how much money it dishes out of the fund every year. So, Congress decided to beef up the programs with tax dollars instead.
"We're in a unique situation of a struggling economy, and until that cap gets raised this was a good way to give a boost to this program," August said.
While some said this is a surprise, they'll still use the money to help victims of violent crime.
"To turn that money away would be to tell families we are not going to accept this money to help you," Heckmaster said.