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Lack of funding for Violence Against Women Act could harm local groups, victims

Posted at 10:51 PM, Jan 04, 2019
and last updated 2019-01-05 02:47:32-05

Due to the budget impasse, lawmakers have failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, a landmark 1994 law that allots federal money to organizations that serve women across the country who have been subjected to violence.

The federal money is a significant source of funding for both local groups RISE and Stand Strong, formerly the Women’s Shelter of San Luis Obispo.

Both combine to serve thousands of victims of domestic violence each year.

“Almost half our clients are children,” said Kirsten Rambo, Executive Director at Stand Strong. “And there is a really big impact on kids who are witnessing domestic violence at home, kids who are experiencing child abuse, and these funds help them too. This has really big impacts for the whole family.”

The act hands out millions of dollars in grants each year: The Office on Violence Against Women, which administers some grants authorized under the Violence Against Women Act plus other grants, awarded more than $460 million in the 2018 fiscal year.

“The fact that is has not been reauthorized and we are at risk of losing that funding is so scary to the work that we do and the victims we serve,” said Jenny Adams, Executive Director of RISE.

Forty percent of RISE’s funding comes from a combination of state and federal funds.

At Stand Strong, 80 percent of its budget is federally funded.

Thanks to the power of the #MeToo movement, more people who have been impacted by domestic violence have come forward. But that increase in clients hasn’t been met with an increase in funding.

“We had a 250 percent increase in our phone calls in the year after the Me Too movement happened,” Adams said. “We have a six month waiting list for our counseling services and our shelters are full, at capacity all the time.”

While both the House and the Senate passed spending deals with clauses that would have extended the act until Feb. 8, it was not reauthorized due to the broader budget debate over Trump’s proposed border wall.

Funding for Violence Against Women Act programs comes from two sources: the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Justice. Because Health and Human Services appropriations have already been approved, the recipients of those grants are not in danger.

The act is expected to eventually be reauthorized. Advocates urged Congress to do so as quickly as possible.

“It’s not a political issue. It shouldn’t be a political issue,” said Qudsia Raja, policy director for the National Domestic Violence Hotline, which was formed as a result of the initial 1994 act but does not receive grant money from it. “It’s about survivors and their needs. It’s pretty disappointing but it’s not surprising, considering our current political climate.”

Changes this year, in a bill introduced Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Texas, include increasing funding for the Rape Prevention and Education Program and expanding the response to missing and murdered Native American women, a population particularly at riskfor domestic violence.

Raja called the adds “modest and critical” and does not believe they held back the reauthorization.

“I think that it was bad timing amid the current political situation,” she said. “It really wasn’t asking for a lot.”

Despite the looming danger of lost funds, both RISE and Stand Strong will continue to provide services to the thousands who reach out and work to encourage the ones who haven’t to do so.

A toll-free 24/7 hotline can be reached at 855-886-RISE (7473) or 805-781-6400.

Related: ‘Women’s lives in danger’: Government shutdown holds up funds for sexual violence survivors