by Michael Lyle, Nevada Current
Lawmakers scolded the governor’s office for failing to provide a solution to fix a $2.3 million budget shortfall for program that provides financial assistance for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors.
The fund, which is expected to receive less federal funds this year than anticipated, is at risk of being insolvent during the 2023-2025 biennium without additional money, lawmakers were told Tuesday during a joint hearing of the Assembly Ways and Means and the Senate Finance subcommittees on Human Services.
In a statement following the hearing, Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro said Gov. Joe Lombardo’s office “had months to bring forward a budget amendment to address the Victims of Crime Fund shortfall but has failed to do so.”
“It’s easy to talk tough on crime when you want to score political points, but shortchanging funds for victims of crime is unacceptable,” Cannizzaro said.
The committees met Tuesday to approve budget recommendations for the Division of Child and Family Services.
During a committee hearing March 21, lawmakers were assured a $4.4 million general fund appropriation would be enough to keep the victims of crime fund for the 2023 – 2025 biennium.
However, the proposed amount came with the assumption the state would also receive $2.3 million from the federal government, similar to the amount it was awarded in 2022.
Days after the March hearing, the state learned it would receive $1 million from the federal government, less than half what was expected.
The fund is facing a $2.3 million total budget shortfall, and without immediate action the program won’t be able to compensate future claims during the biennium.
Amy Stephenson, the director of the governor’s finance office, said the administration put forth a proposal that sought to replace the use of court assessment fees to fund the program with general funds, but the legislation hasn’t received a hearing yet.
“Once we figure out that legislation, we can actually address the shortfall in the interim” after the current legislation session is concluded, she said. “That’s where we were figuring that out.”
That response did not sit well with the committee.
Lawmakers questioned why the governor’s office hadn’t brought forward a budget amendment that takes care of the problem at hand rather than waiting for the interim, especially if a lack of funding could result in victims not receiving assistance.
“I think it’s disingenuous on our part and probably a slap in the face to victims of crime to say the only way to take care of this is during the interim when we know there is a problem now,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe Moreno, adding that the interim fix proposed by the governor’s office would leave the funding “to depend on a bill that may or may not live.”
“If we could get a budget amendment to take care of this now, I believe that’s what we should do as a body,” Monroe Moreno said.
The victims of crime fund program pays for a variety of expenses including compensation for wage and income loss related to violent crimes, funeral expenses, home security repair and emergency shelter.
Melanie Young, the director of Division of Child and Family Services, told lawmakers at a March 21 hearing that in fiscal year 2022 the program received nearly 4,000 claims from victims seeking compensation:
29% for domestic violence;22% for sexual assault over 18 years old;6% for sexual assault under 18 years old;18% for physical assault;5% for homicide;20% for driving under the influence, robbery with injury, physical abuse, and hit and runs.
In addition to a federal grant, the program relies on funds from court assessment fees and restitution from incarcerated people.
At the close of fiscal year 2017, the program had about $12 million in reserves, Young said.
That slowly dwindled down since the program wasn’t bringing in enough revenue from its current funding sources.
Young told lawmakers Tuesday the fund could be insolvent in the second year of the biennium.
The committee voted to bring the problem before the entire joint committee on April 29 to discuss proposals to fill the budget shortfall while legislators are still in the current legislative session, which is scheduled to adjourn June 5.