- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 16, 2014

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A program that grants money to Arkansas crime victims to pay for funeral expenses, medical care and other needs faces a budget shortfall next year and needs at least another $2 million to continue, outgoing Attorney General Dustin McDaniel warned Tuesday.

McDaniel said state and federal funding levels will be insufficient to pay claims awarded through the Crime Victims Reparations Program, possibly as early as February. The two-term Democrat said he will notify expected recipients that funding for their claims may be delayed indefinitely.

McDaniel is leaving office in January and will be succeeded by Republican Leslie Rutledge. He said he wanted to warn lawmakers of the projected shortfall as they prepare for next year’s session, which begins Jan. 12.

“I want to make sure that is front and center, that they all are aware of it, and whatever fiscal decisions they make …they don’t look up in the summer and go, ‘oh, gosh, we didn’t know,” McDaniel told reporters. “So I’m doing all I can to draw as much attention as I can to this as possible before I leave so they can make the right decision.”

The program was created in 1989 and is administered by the AG’s office. It paid $3.91 million to Arkansas crime victims last year.

The program has seen a consistent decrease in payments from the Administration of Justice Fund, the source of state funding for the program. The AOJ fund is financed by court costs, fees imposed to file lawsuits, fees on drug violations and fees for a variety of traffic violations such as drunken driving.

McDaniel said the 2013 federal budget sequestration and delays in receiving federal grant funds have exacerbated the problem.

McDaniel said Rutledge and Republican Gov.-elect Asa Hutchinson will need to work immediately with the Legislature to decide the program’s future.

“Because of the projected shortfall, I am deeply concerned about the viability of this program and will work closely with the Legislature to determine the steps necessary moving forward,” Rutledge said in a statement.

A spokesman for Hutchinson said the incoming governor had just received word Tuesday of the projected budget gap.

“He needs to fully review the situation,” J.R. Davis, a spokesman for Hutchinson, said in an email. “There are many programs that need attention and review, and the Governor-elect is committed to a full review.”

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