OTTAWA COUNTY, MI – With an increasing number of domestic violence cases in recent years, Ottawa County has decided to set aside $1 million in federal funding for a new fund for victims of crime at the county scale.
Money from the new fund is expected to help pay for rent and other expenses a victim may encounter while their case is being pursued.
The funding comes from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), a 2021 federal COVID-19 stimulus spending plan. In total, Ottawa County received $57 million from ARPA.
Of this total, $1 million has been allocated to the new Ottawa County Attorney’s Crime Victims Fund, which will provide funding to victims of crime, particularly in cases of domestic violence. and homicide.
Previously, the county received state money for a similar purpose, but this amount fluctuated from year to year. This year the county received $13,398 from the state of Michigan and is expected to receive $11,877 next year.
“Last year, we used up all the state money in less than nine months,” said Ottawa County District Attorney Lee Fisher. “By creating our own county fund for victims of crime, we will have funds available in case we run out of public funds.”
Fisher said the fund will continue, with the entire $1 million capital going to the Grand Haven Community Foundation. Whatever money a million dollars earns in interest each year will be used for victims of crime. Although an exact interest rate has yet to be determined, Fisher said a conservative estimate of 2% interest would still provide $20,000 to victims of crime.
“We saw this need to help victims of crime and that’s one of our main goals,” Fisher said.
Trials for major crimes can last several months and sometimes more than a year. During this time, victims of crime or their families may need help paying rent, keeping a cell phone or other expenses.
“A lot of times when victims go through cases of domestic violence or criminal sexual conduct, they tend to drag on,” Fisher said. “Especially with domestic violence, the partner who is accused (of a crime) will try to take resources away from the victim so that they cannot afford rent, food or utilities. In situations like this- there, it is a way to help the victims to continue and to make go through this process.
Fisher said the DA’s office has also seen a need in homicide cases to pay for a headstone for the victim, which this new fund could do.
“We can help them, we want to use this money to keep them going,” he said.
The Ottawa County Attorney’s Crime Victims Fund will not be used for any restitution, i.e. money the offender owes the victim under a court order. Instead, this fund will be used to help victims and ensure their safety during the legal process. It’s fairly common for a domestic violence abuser to smash or take away a victim’s cellphone, so Fisher hopes the fund can be used to ensure victims have cellphones to call 911 and stay safe from their attacker.
In recent years, there has been an increase in domestic violence cases in Ottawa County, making the need for funds to help victims even more critical. According to the 2021 annual report of the prosecutor’s office, there were 807 domestic violence cases last year, up 5.4% from 766 cases in 2020. Criminal sexual conduct cases are also on the rise, increasing by 38.4% from 2020 to 2021.
“I’m just thrilled that we can continue to help these people,” Fisher said. “Their life has been turned upside down by the crime, it can turn the life of the whole family upside down. If there’s one small thing we can do to help them, that’s what excites me the most.
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