Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission continues search for funding

Commissioners target emergency funding after getting $1.5 million from General Fund

By: - June 14, 2023 1:01 pm
A crowd of people make their way to the lobby of the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission Feb. 24. They came to Montgomery to protest delays to their claims and complain about the lack of communication between themselves and agency staff.

A crowd of people make their way to the lobby of the Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission on Feb. 24, 2023. The group came to Montgomery to protest delays to their claims and complain about the lack of communication between themselves and agency staff. (Ralph Chapoco/Alabama Reflector)

The Alabama Crime Victims Commission plans a special meeting Thursday to discuss funding.

The agenda includes a request for an allocation from the Governor’s Emergency Fund and a request for future hires not to exceed about 27% of the Budget. The schedule also includes a line item to migrate the agency’s checking account to the State Treasury.

“I expect ACVCC staff will brief the commissioners this Thursday on the various agenda items, which may lead to some questions/discussion, resulting in a few decisions possibly,” said Darlene Hutchinson, one of the agency’s commissioners, in a text message.

The commission has been struggling to pay crime victims in a timely fashion, due to shortfalls in existing revenues and a lack of staff.

Some victims and victims’ families have waited months to receive their claims from the Commission.  Some say they have not received updates about applications they had filed months or even a year before.

Legislators allocated $1.5 million to the commission from the General Fund budget in the recently-concluded legislative session. It was the first-ever direct appropriation to the commission from the General Fund, but commissioners had originally asked for $5 million.

Among the more important items on the agenda is the emergency funding available at the governor’s discretion.

“In the process of talking to legislators and other people at the statehouse, we learned about the emergency dollars that the governor is allocated each year,” Hutchinson said in an interview Wednesday. “I don’t know how much of that the governor has left of that because I am sure there’s lots of people who have needs throughout the year. We learned about that option so we are trying whatever we can. It is so important for us to try and clear this backlog and serve victims the way we should be serving them.”

The agency is also looking for additional assistance from individuals who have previously retired. These are personnel that they could hire at an hourly rate, without the cost of paying them benefits.

Prior to the start of the session, Kim Martin, the interim executive director at the time and general counsel for the AVCC, along with Hutchinson, began strategizing about potential avenues for securing additional funding for additional resources that would help reduce the current backlog in claims.

Everette Johnson, the Commission’s current executive director, then joined the conversations when he was hired back in April.

Frustrations among victims and their families led Faith in Action Alabama to organize a protest at the ACVCC’s location at the end of February to bring attention to the issue. The nonprofit had been helping clients with applications and followed up with several of them to ask if they had received their claims payments.

Martin said that the agency has been plagued by underfunding dating back a decade. The Commission receives funding from fines and fees paid to the court, along with restitution payments. According to the 2022 annual report, the agency took in about $821,119 from city court fees, along with $835,017 in court fees from counties. They also received another $187,000 in restitution payments.

Back in 2012, the Commission received almost $1.4 million in court fees from the city, almost $1.3 million in county court fees and about $217,000 in restitution payments.

After hearing about the Commission’s situation, Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville allocated $500,000 from the General Fund when the bill originated in the House of Representatives. That figure was increased to $1.5 million in the Senate after Greg Albritton, R-Atmore.

Muaath Al-Khattab, a community organizer for the Montgomery chapter for Faith in Action Alabama, said he is also going to attend the meeting to keep updated on what is happening, but also to hold the commission accountable.

“I want to know when they will receive whatever funding that was approved, and when they will be able to utilize those funds for whatever needs they are going to pursue,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

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Ralph Chapoco
Ralph Chapoco

Ralph Chapoco covers state politics as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. His main responsibility is the criminal justice system in Alabama.