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Viewpoints

Sharing the Financial Costs of Crime

May 9, 2013 02:35:00 am

By Mai Fernandez

Almost a month after the Boston Marathon bombings, the staggering human and financial cost of the crime is becoming clear.

As the One Boston Fund launched by Gov. Deval Patrick and Mayor Thomas Menino raises millions of dollars, experts predict victims’ medical costs will reach more than $9 million. This shocking number should be a wake-up call for all Americans.

In Boston, as surgeons and physicians worked to mend the 70 hospitalized bombing victims, experts began to estimate the costs: $40,000 to $50,000 for emergency room care, $150,000 to $200,000 for long hospital stays, $15,000 to $46,000 for prosthetics—and three or four times that amount for child amputees who will need larger prostheses as they grow.

Inpatient rehabilitation may cost up to $240,000 a year and psychiatrists up to $400 an hour. Medications may average $100 a month. And many of these victims will need to add costly ramps and other equipment so their homes will accommodate their disabilities—expenses not covered by insurance. 

Although the One Boston Fund has reached more than $28.5 million—promising great support for those victims—what about the victims of “ordinary” violence in our country?  

The Center for American Progress estimates that gun violence costs the nation $3.7 billion each year in higher medical expenses, spending on police and courts, and lost productivity from crime victims and offenders. The Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation estimates that in 2010, the total cost of firearm violence in the United States was $174 billion, or $564 for every American. 

Fortunately, President Barack Obama’s 2014 budget includes a proposal to help crime victims pay some expenses not covered by insurance—by raising to $800 million the cap on funds available for victim services under the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA).

The VOCA Fund, established in 1984, is funded not by taxpayers but by criminal fines and other penalties on federal offenders. The federal Office of Management and Budget estimates that the Fund will reach $9.5 billion by the end of fiscal year 2013 and grow by more than $1 billion during the next year.

By raising the VOCA cap to release more dollars, Congress can take a strong and budget-neutral step to help victims at this crucial time.  

The National Center for Victims of Crime has long called for Congress to raise the VOCA Fund cap, preferably to $1 billion a year.

The atrocities in Boston, Newtown, Aurora, and Milwaukee during the past year show why our country must shoulder a greater share of the financial cost of crime.

Although raising the VOCA cap will not reverse the pain and injuries caused by these crimes, it will offer our nation’s crime victims (including those who are struggling to work again and support their families) strong financial support at a catastrophic time.

By releasing more VOCA funds to help all victims, Congress can advance the Fund’s noble mission and join our nation’s crime victims in rebuilding their lives.

Mai Fernandez, executive director of the National Center for Victims of Crime is a frequent blogger for The Crime Report. She welcomes comments from readers.

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