After Republicans stalled the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) for months, it was finally signed back into law in March. Yet another act of Congress, the automatic budget cuts known as sequestration, could undo VAWA’s impact.
Programs that serve the victims of domestic violence have already suffered decreased funding from tight state budgets and previous federal cuts, and now they are grappling with a big blow from sequestration, Tim Murphy of Mother Jones reports:
[T]he Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women sent an email to the hundreds of non-profits and government agencies around the country that rely on its annual grants. The message was grim: Due to cuts mandated by the 2011 Budget Control Act, better known as sequestration, programs that fight domestic violence and sexual assault would see a $20 million drop in funding over the next year. […]
The projections are bleak. Sen. Tom Harkin’s (D-Iowa) office estimates that 70,120 fewer domestic violence victims will have access to recovery programs and shelters; 35,900 fewer people will get help obtaining non-shelter services such as restraining orders and sexual assault treatment. Cuts to programs related to the Victims Against Crime Act will hurt another 310,574 people.
Murphy outlines many of the impacts that have already gone through: the Department of Defense will put recruitment on hold for the planned hiring of 829 sexual assault response coordinators to combat rape in the military; a program of nurses who make house calls to collect rape evidence may close for good in Shreveport, Louisiana; the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence will cut back advocacy services to four days a week, serving 1,600 fewer people; the Kentucky Domestic Violence Association is eliminating one staff member and asking another to go part time and may have to close shelters next year; and many other programs are feeling the cuts in various ways.
Domestic violence programs had been struggling financially long before sequestration hit. Nearly 80 percent of service providers surveyed by the Mary Kay Foundation reported receiving decreased funding from government sources. Many have also seen reductions in individual donations, foundations, and corporate funding, possibly related to budget tightening across all areas in the down economy. That has led 43 percent of providers to decrease the services they offer.
Yet demand has been on the rise. The survey found a huge increase in demand for the fourth year in a row, with eight out of ten shelters reporting an increase in women seeking help. While the recession isn’t a direct cause of violence, financial problems can act as a trigger, and 70 percent of victims reported that financial issues were a factor in their abuse. Nearly half pointed to job loss. A majority of shelters also report that the abuse has become more violent than before the crisis.
Meanwhile, the economy also makes it difficult for women to leave abusive situations. About three-quarters of the victims surveyed had stayed with their abuser longer for financial reasons.
Congress rushed to fix sequestration-related flight delays and has passed some fixes to other programs, but domestic violence services are among the programs that have yet to be considered for a fix, along with Head Start, Meals on Wheels, and other important services.