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Oklahoma crime victims could lose funding

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) Oklahomans could lose federal funding that provides direct assistance to victims of violent crimes if a proposal before Congress is passed, an official with the U.S. Attorney's office said.

Mary Jo Speaker, a victim-witness specialist for the U.S. Attorney for Oklahoma's Eastern District, said the proposal would remove $1.27 billion from the Federal Crime Victims Fund and place it in a general fund.

In fiscal 2005, Oklahoma received $4.38 million from the fund, which was created by the Victims of Crime Act of 1984, for use by shelters and victims' service programs like Child And Adolescent Services Association and those associated with district attorneys' offices and other local law enforcement agencies.

Speaker, who was recently honored with the Federal Crime Victim Service Award by U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, said if the measure passes, there could be no money to distribute to Oklahoma crime victims by the spring of 2007.

``Once you give the money up, it's very hard to get it back,'' she said.

Nationwide, the fund provides grants for about 4,400 programs and aids about 4 million victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, child abuse, drunk driving, elder abuse and robbery as well as families of victims of homicides and other violent crimes.

Speaker said when Oklahoma began to receive the federal money in the 1980s, the state Legislature withdrew its funding for crime victims.

Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson released a letter Tuesday urging Congress to avoid the cut in funds.

``For many survivors, VOCA is the only chance they have at getting the help they need to recover and move forward,'' Edmondson said in a release. ``Congress should work to protect the programs that help crime victims now and in the future. We cannot continually deplete the funding that supports them.''
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