Tape at a crime scene. The Alabama Crime Victims’ Compensation Commission will seek $3.1 million from the Alabama Legislature next year. (file)
The Alabama Crime Victims Compensation Commission will seek $3.1 million from state lawmakers next year.
Everette Johnson, executive of the ACVCC, said during the organization’s quarterly meeting Thursday that the money, more than double what the agency received from the Legislature this year, would free up funding to pay crime victims.
“What I am asking for is to change that, to have operating expenses coming from the legislature, and that is going to free up that fines and fees money to go directly to the victims,” said Everette Johnson, executive director of ACVCC.
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That figure is a preliminary estimate of the Commission’s budget for the next fiscal year. Commissioner Darlene Hutchinson requested additional time to review the figures before making them final.
“I know crime victims are a major issue and last year, we stepped that up quite a bit,” said Sen. Greg Albritton, R-Atmore, the chair of the Senate Finance and Taxation General Fund committee, which oversees the General Fund budget. “We jumped in with what we felt like was both feet to help cover some of those bases. We’ll see what the report is. I haven’t seen that amount at this point, nor the reason for it.”
Rep. Rex Reynolds, R-Huntsville, the chair of the House Ways and Means General Fund committee, said he is open to looking into the issue.
“Our court systems went through a period of time when they were closed,” he said. “Therefore, a lot of the victims’ compensations were not adjudicated, and therefore not extended to the victims, so I know the organization is playing catch up.”
ACVCC officials said getting that money would allow them to put more money toward compensation of victims and their families affected by violent crimes. According to the commission’s 2022 annual report, the commission spent more than $1.8 million on administrative costs, with about $1.6 million going to personnel costs and employee benefits.
“The reason we were not getting anything extra from the Legislature is because we were not asking,” Hutchinson said.
The Commission received $1.5 million from the General Fund Budget for the first time in its history during the 2023 legislative session. The agency was then allocated another $1 million in emergency appropriation from Gov. Kay Ivey a few weeks ago.
Before this year, ACVCC’s revenues had come almost exclusively from fines and fees. The only allocation they had received in the past from legislators was $100,000 as a pass through that would eventually be given to Victims of Crime and Leniency (VOCAL), a nonprofit group that advocates for victims.
The agency also receives grant money from the Victims of Crime Act, a federal law. But that funding source has been declining because it is a matching grant tied to money the commission collects from fines and fees.
ACVCC has faced a drumbeat of complaints from victims claiming compensation, who cite long delays and absences of communication from the commission on their claims. Some have said they have not received any information about their claims nor are provided meaningful updates about their applications when they reach out to the Commission.
The frustration had gotten to the point that Faith in Action Alabama, a nonprofit organization that has been helping clients complete the application, staged a protest at the Commission office asking their clients to receive updates to their claims.
Staff from the ACVCC told the group that the delays are related to funding. ACVCC continues to experience steady revenue declines from fines and fees, which has resulted in staffing reductions and fewer payouts to victims and their families.
Alabama Appleseed, a criminal justice reform organization, referred to the commission’s funding woes at an event Tuesday.
“That agency is understaffed, and it is only funded by either a federal grant that is used for a very specific purpose, or by fines and fees, which are paid into the system by people who are convicted of crimes,” said Leah Nelson, Appleseed’s research director. “Now, we have just established, more or less, that is like putting money from one hand into another hand. A lot of the very same people who need help, need financial assistance of the kind from the Compensation Commission, also owe fines and fees which they struggle to pay.”
According to the “Afterward” report Appleseed published in June, about 20% of those surveyed for the report applied for funding from the Commission, and about half of those received any compensation. Most said they did not receive enough to cover their expenses.
Johnson said Thursday the commission had reduced its backlog of cases from 1,900 in April to about 1,500 today. Johnson hopes he can eliminate the backlog by the end of 2025.
The Commission has also paid out more money in claims, going from about $225,000 in August to almost $340,000 in September.
They have also increased the staff to handle claims and address the backlog in claims. The commission is recruiting two more staff members.
But many applicants continue to struggle with their claims. Kyshana McCants’ husband, Rufus, was killed in July 2022 from a gunshot wound he sustained in Montgomery. He was transported to a local hospital where he was later pronounced deceased.
“I had to wait almost two years to hear that I only received $39 from the funeral home,” McCants said in an interview Wednesday. “They took me through the whole procedure like they were going to help me and my son, and they never did anything to help us.”
She completed the application a few days after her husband was killed, but it took time to get the death certificate and his driver’s license that she dropped off about a month later. Then she waited.
“I didn’t hear from them,” McCants said. “I had to keep calling them.”
She then received a letter from the Commission two weeks ago notifying her of the award for $39 that was sent to the funeral home.
Johnson expressed sympathy with McCants but declined to discuss specifics on her case, citing rules about privacy.
“We are the payor of last resort, and we can only pay what they need to be compensated for, so I don’t know specifically what the $39 was for, but that was probably all that we were allowed to pay because all her other expenses were covered, whether it be by insurance or by her,” Johnson said expressing sympathy.
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