Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders has approved one-time funding of $17 million for organizations serving crime victims in Arkansas to offset the loss of federal Victims of Crime Act dollars
The state allocation will come from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) dollars that have been awarded to Arkansas.
Arkansas Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) said in a press release that the organizations are “grateful to Governor Sanders for prioritizing the advocacy of children and families involved in the child welfare system. This funding ensures CASA programs can continue to serve the children of Arkansas.”
Roughly 23% of the local CASA budget relies on Victims of Crime Act funding, according to Celeste Davis, executive director of CASA in Clark and Pike counties. “Rather than just keeping our doors open, this funding will help us continue our outreach in the community, and to recruit volunteers,” Davis said. “We do not function without volunteers, so having this additional funding will help us with training.”
Another local organization that depends on the funding is the Percy and Donna Malone Child Safety Center. “These funds are absolutely impactful to what our organization is able to do for our community and the children we serve,” said Stephanie Hrabal, executive director of the PDMCSC, whose overall budget relies on about 30% VOCA funds.
The PDMCSC, which annually serves approximately 200 children in a five-county service area (Clark, Hot Spring, Nevada, Pike and Dallas), employs staff that are trained specifically to handle cases of child abuse. The funding ensures the center will keep its direct service staff, including a mental health therapist, forensic interviewer, victim advocate and awareness advocates.
“Without those positions, we would not be able to serve the children in our area,” Hrabal said.
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Decreased revenues from federal criminal fines and fees have created a sustainability and cash flow issue with federal VOCA grants. In the past 5 years, the amount of VOCA funds distributed to Arkansas has dramatically decreased annually from its high of $30.6 million in 2018 to $13.1 million in 2022. Meanwhile, requests for funding by organizations serving crime victims in Arkansas have increased significantly each year.
Without this additional funding, dollars awarded in VOCA grants this federal funding cycle would have been cut by an estimated 60-70% rendering it difficult to continue to provide services in many areas of the state. CASA said a loss of VOCA funding would have a detrimental impact on the many programs serving Arkansas.
In addition to CASA, ACADV, Child Advocacy Centers of Arkansas, the Arkansas Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Ozark Rape Crisis Center, and numerous other organizations serving crime victims in Arkansas will benefit from this one-time funding.
CASA stands for Court Appointed Special Advocates. CASA volunteers speak up and advocate for abused and neglected children in the courtroom and other settings. Arkansas CASA is made up of 23 agencies that serve all 75 Arkansas counties and is part of a national network of 955 programs that recruit, train and support volunteers to represent the interests of these children and their families.