New York State Office Of Victim Services Will Administer Federally Funded Grants To 61 Victim Assistance Programs
Attorneys Funded Through Grants Will Take Referrals From The New York Crime Victims Help Website, An Online Resource Now Being Piloted In Western New York
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced nearly $16 million in federal funding that will allow 61 state-supported victim assistance programs and child advocacy centers to hire attorneys who will assist crime victims with civil legal matters, such as divorce, custody, immigration and financial issues. Administered by the state Office of Victim Services, the federally funded grants will allow these programs to provide free legal help to the victims they serve.
"Crime victims shouldn't be forced to navigate the complex and often-daunting process of civil litigation without representation," Governor Cuomo said. "Thousands of New Yorkers in every corner of this state arrive in court without a lawyer present because they lack either the financial means to secure one or they are unaware of how to find legal assistance. This funding will allow New York to continue to serve crime victims during their time of need and will connect vulnerable New Yorkers with attorneys who can advise or represent them in civil matters that often arise from victimization."
"My mother was an early advocate for victims of domestic violence, and that's why I'm particularly proud that we're leading the nation in our fight against domestic violence and holding offenders accountable," said Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul, who made today's announcement. "Victims of a crime should have proper representation and access to the resources they need during their time of need. This grant funding will help to provide assistance to victims of domestic violence and other crimes, providing them with attorneys to help with civil legal matters. There is a lack of legal services available to victims, particularly those of low income and from high-needs communities. With this funding, we are ensuring all victims receive the care they need and the justice they deserve."
Crime victims often face numerous hurdles that can prevent them from securing legal representation in civil matters. Some can't afford an attorney or are unaware of the pro bono legal services available to them in their community. In addition, victims of certain crimes, such as domestic violence involving undocumented immigrants, human trafficking and elder abuse, may be reluctant to seek assistance because of fear or embarrassment.
Lieutenant Governor Hochul announced the grants at a press conference at the lower Manhattan headquarters of Safe Horizon, one of the grant recipients and the largest nonprofit victim services provider in the country. The nearly $16 million announced today represents the total awarded to the 61 programs for the first year of their five-year contracts with OVS. Exact grant awards for years two through five of the contract, which runs through Sept. 30, 2023 and coincides with the federal fiscal year, will be determined. Click here for a complete list of victim assistance programs receiving grants.
Victim assistance programs will use these grants, funded through the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), to hire or contract attorneys who will represent individuals in civil matters resulting from their victimization. For example, victims of intimate partner violence, child abuse, sexual assault, elder abuse and human trafficking may need assistance with protective or restraining orders; face issues with housing or custody; or need legal intervention with creditors and other entities because of identity theft or financial fraud. These attorneys also may file motions with the court to vacate convictions; State law allows individuals convicted of certain prostitution crimes who are determined to be victims of certain sex or labor trafficking to seek that remedy.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "There are significant gaps in civil legal services available to crime victims, especially those with limited income or individuals from traditionally marginalized populations. Without proper representation, there is a risk these individuals can face a variety of negative consequences from their victimization, such as loss of employment, housing or custody of their children. This grant funding will help ensure that crime victims have adequate access to competent and compassionate counsel when they need it."
Safe Horizon CEO Ariel Zwang said, "As the nation's largest victims' services provider, we know that survivors of violence and abuse benefit tremendously when they have expert legal representation on family law, matrimonial and immigration matters. They shouldn't have to navigate a myriad of complex court systems on their own and Safe Horizon is proud to stand by their side to offer much-needed legal assistance. This new support from the New York State Office of Victim Services (OVS) will expand the reach of Safe Horizon's attorneys into community-based programs throughout New York City, and will help survivors of domestic violence, assault, human trafficking and other crimes obtain safety and stability. I am deeply grateful to Governor Cuomo, Lieutenant Governor Hochul, and OVS for significantly expanding legal services for survivors across the state."
Congresswoman Nita M. Lowey said, "This funding will provide much-needed support and resources to crime victims and their families. It is vital that we provide community-based organizations throughout the state with the resources they need to assist vulnerable New Yorkers. I thank Governor Cuomo for his commitment to supporting victims of crimes throughout New York. As Ranking Member on the House Appropriations Committee, I will continue to secure these vital federal resources for our communities."
Congressman José E. Serrano said, "This critical federal funding will improve crime victim services throughout New York state. Too many New Yorkers are forced to deal with civil litigation without any guidance or assistance because they don't have the financial resources to pay for them, but this funding will prove priceless in helping countless New Yorkers. We cannot leave any New Yorkers behind, and I applaud Governor Cuomo for his commitment to ensure everyone has access to legal representation regardless of economic background."
Congressman Jerrold Nadler said, "Too many crime victims in New York are left to fend for themselves while dealing with civil litigation, but today's funding will provide much needed assistance to crime victims and victim assistance programs. I am proud to join Governor Cuomo in announcing this funding, and look forward to working with him in the future."
Attorneys funded through these grants also will help individuals who seek civil legal assistance through New York Crime Victims Legal Help, a new website created by the Office of Victim Services in partnership with the Empire Justice Center, Pro Bono Net and the Center for Human Services Research at the University at Albany. The website, which features a screening tool and legal help directory, is being piloted in Erie, Genesee and Niagara counties and will be available in the state's 57 counties outside of New York City by the end of 2019.
In addition, attorneys hired or contracted through these grants will be required to complete 15 hours of training within the first year of their hiring; a portion of this training must include the impact trauma can have on crime victims and how it may affect their legal representation.
The Office of Victim Services funds a network of 222 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, such as crisis counseling, advocacy and emergency shelter, across the state. Each of these victim assistance programs was eligible to apply for this funding, which will run through 2023.
Over the past two years, changes in state law under Governor Andrew M. Cuomo's leadership and an increase in federal VOCA funding have allowed the Office of Victim Services to expand and improve services for crime victims, including:
- $18.8 million over three years so 85 victim assistance programs funded by OVS can hire case managers who will streamline and improve services for crime victims and their families.
- $8.4 million to partner with the state Office for the Aging and two nonprofit organizations to improve and expand services for vulnerable adults at risk of abuse, neglect or financial exploitation.
- $5 million in funding that will allow the State University of New York to supply and distribute 225,000 comfort bags to victims of sexual assault and domestic violence seeking help at hospitals, shelters and rape crisis centers across the state. New York now requires hospitals to retain sexual offense evidence collection kits for 20 years, instead of 30 days, providing victims with the time and space to heal before deciding to contact authorities.
- Legislation signed this summer by the Governor expands benefits available to eligible crime victims, who have not been physically injured, to include reimbursement of crime scene cleanup and domestic violence shelter costs. The change will allow victims of hate crimes or domestic violence cases, such to apply for compensation for these expenses from the Office of Victim Services.
About the New York State Office of Victim Services
The Office of Victim Services provides a safety net for crime victims and/or their family members, helping eligible individuals with medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance, all at no cost to taxpayers. The agency also funds 222 victim assistance programs that provide direct services, including counseling, advocacy and legal services, across the state. For more information, eligibility guidelines and to locate a victim assistance program, visit www.ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.
About Safe Horizon
Safe Horizon empowers victims of domestic violence, child abuse, sexual assault and human trafficking to move from crisis to confidence - touching the lives of 250,000 New Yorkers every year. www.safehorizon.org