New tech for victim-services efforts

Congresswoman Kathleen Rice: Bringing victim services into the 21st Century.

Four Long Island programs are among several New York victim-assistance programs upgrading their technology through a new round of federal grants.

More than 100 crime-victim service providers will share roughly $1.5 million in federal grants, primarily for the purchase of new tech facilitating quicker compensation for victims’ medical bills and lost wages.

The grants will be distributed by New York’s Office of Victim Services, which administers state and federal funding to 175 nonprofits, hospitals and law-enforcement agencies around the state. Those organizations manage 225 different victim-assistance programs across every New York county.

Every program that applied for a technology grant will receive part of the $1.5 million, according to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who said the funds “will help ensure crime victims and their families receive the resources they are entitled to during their time of need.”

The biggest federal stipend, four grants totaling $89,721, is heading to Cattaraugus Community Action, based in Salamanca in Western New York. The 50-year-old nonprofit, one of hundreds of national Community Action Agencies, helps society’s most vulnerable – including crime victims – achieve economic, physical and emotional security.

The second-largest chunk ($59,259) is spread across three grants coming to The Safe Center LI, a Bethpage-based agency for victims of domestic and child abuse. Other Long Island programs earning federal technology grants include the Nassau County chapter of the Education and Assistance Corp. ($12,851); regional Parents For Megan’s Law offices (three grants totaling $8,886); and the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office ($1,001).

Sizeable grants were also earmarked for Vera House (two grants totaling $47,234), a comprehensive domestic and sexual violence agency in Syracuse; the Westchester Community Opportunity Program ($30,580); and the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (two grants, $32,330).

The programs will use the grant money for computers, scanners, related software and other equipment that will speed up applications through the online Victim Services Portal, a statewide victims’ compensation hub. Programs will also be able to purchase mobile devices that let staffers file claims wherever and whenever they meet victims.

For the 2014-15 fiscal year, the Office of Victim Services provided $23.9 million in compensation to crime victims and their families, according to the governor’s office. The compensation and the office’s operational overhead are entirely covered by fines, surcharges and “crime victim assistance fees” certain offenders must pay following conviction in New York or federal courts.

As a last-resort safety net for crime victims and their families, the office will only reimburse for out-of-pocket crime-related losses after all other sources of assistance – including medical insurance and workers’ compensation – have been exhausted.

Congresswoman Kathleen Rice, D-4th Dist., the former Nassau County district attorney, said she was pleased Long Island providers are receiving federal funds to improve their victim-assistance services.

“The last thing the victim of any crime should have to worry about is a long wait period or an overly complicated bureaucratic process,” Rice said in a statement. “This funding will help bring New York’s victims’ services providers into the 21st century, so the people who rely on these services are compensated quickly and efficiently.”