Domestic Violence Shelters Warn That Sequestration Has Put Women’s Lives On The Line

Sequestration, the automatic across-the-board spending cuts that went into effect in March, by design cuts a wide array of government-funded programs. One of the areas is domestic violence funding for programs on the state and local level. At the same time that sequestration is reducing those budgets, however, victims’ need for support has been steadily increasing.

Kim Gandy, CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, reports that nearly all state programs had already been experiencing reduced funding and increased demand. She told ThinkProgress that a survey her program did in the fall found that 69 percent of state programs reported funding decreases that they were unable to make up with private donations. Beyond cuts from the federal government, almost 80 percent reported cuts from state and local funding.

Meanwhile, 88 percent reported an increase in demand for their services. The network does a national census on the same day in September from midnight to midnight to see how many people are served and found that 10,401 people reached out for help and were turned away for a lack of resources last year, similar to the number a year before.

Programs report that denying services or shuttering doors is the ultimate last resort. Yet many of the people on the ground who spoke with ThinkProgress reported that programs have to consider such drastic changes to grapple with yet another budget cut thanks to sequestration.

Rhode Island

Domestic violence programs have already experienced a drop of about 70 percent in state funding over the past seven years, Deborah DeBare, executive director of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told ThinkProgress. That has meant reducing the number of shelter beds available for the first time ever. One program used to serve 15 women and children per night and now can only take five.


The programs are now starting to feel the impact of sequestration, with a cut to one federal grant so far and the rest beginning with the June 1 fiscal cycle. To deal with the coming cuts, as of June 1 the state will no longer have any advocates helping victims in court on Mondays. “This is the first time in the history of domestic violence services in Rhode Island we’ve ever had to scale back in this dramatic way,” she said. But the pain isn’t over, as the programs are expecting more cut backs to court advocacy services and a potential reduction in shelter beds depending on the size of the cuts.

She described the real life consequences of this reduction in services for one victim of domestic violence. All of the shelter beds were filled, so she went to a homeless shelter instead. But her abuser, who had been imprisoned for the past three years, had escaped. “There she was in a homeless shelter with a public address,” DeBare explained. She was in an unsecured facility with people who hadn’t been trained to deal with domestic violence. Yet even the option of referring victims to homeless shelters is diminishing, as sequestration is also reducing those programs’ budgets. “Sometimes it’s very difficult to find a bed for somebody,” she concluded.


While domestic violence programs in Kansas haven’t been impacted by sequestration’s cuts yet, Joyce Grover, executive director of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, told ThinkProgress they will hit within the next month as each source of federal funding takes a 5 to 6.5 percent cut. That comes on top of a 14 percent decline since 2010. “I don’t think we have a way to deal with the cuts,” she said. Staff has already been denied raises, and now many programs will have to consider laying people off. Many will instead turn to volunteers, a risky choice given the critical nature of the work.

“I really think that these kinds of funds need to be looked at at least as critically as the air traffic controllers,” she said, pointing to the bill rushed through Congress to ease air travel delays. “This is a safety issue… There’s got to be a better way to balance the budget than to put so many people’s lives at risk.”


At WEAVE, a dual service agency serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento, the budget woes started in 2009 as the county started “dramatically” cutting funding, Executive Director Beth Hassett told ThinkProgress. To deal with those cuts, she limited mid-level management and kept “boots on the ground.” The program also got rid of free counseling for anyone who is not a client in the shelter, which was a big shift. “It’s too bad because some of that is really preventative work,” she said.

The organization is now expecting anywhere from a 5 to 10 percent cut in funding for the coming year. It will likely have to lay off some people overseeing programs and ask higher level employees to keep tabs on a bigger portfolio, look at what fee for service arrangements it can implement on a sliding scale, and continue to reduce community outreach and outreach into high schools, both of which can help prevent future violence.

Meanwhile, the bad economy has meant that many victims are staying longer in violent situations, which increases their need for services. “By the time they get to us they’re very high-need clients,” she said. “We’re seeing some people who have experienced tremendous trauma.” People also need longer stays in the organization’s safe house, as the average stay has shot up from 11 days to 30.


“I think sometimes the fact that women are going to get killed is escaping people,” she said. “As [services] get cut and cut and cut we’re going to see more homicides.”


Sequestration cuts won’t start until July, but state programs are expecting reductions of 5 to 7 percent depending on the grant program, said Grace Huang, the public policy program coordinator at the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Those cuts may mean having to lay off staff and end services, including transportation, meaning “in rural communities they can’t go pick somebody up in the middle of the night,” she said.

The programs have already taken some dramatic steps in reaction to budget cuts. The state’s 24-hour hotline is no longer operating for 24 hours — it’s gone to 12 hours a day. The coalition surveyed programs across the state and found that at least a third have laid off staff and many aren’t providing as many services. Some programs are no longer doing advocacy at courthouses, which means “those survivors are going in by themselves to ask for a [protection] order from the court with their abusers in the same room,” she said.


While programs in Texas haven’t experienced cuts yet, many are anticipating an impact, said Angela Hale, spokesperson for the Texas Council on Family Violence. State funding has been kept steady over the past three legislative sessions, but demand has been increasing. The bad economy has led to an uptick in need, as has a booming population in Texas. “When you have an increase in population and you have static funding, then there’s a constant need to try to serve more victims,” she said. Some programs will likely turn to raising private money, but many have experienced difficulties in fundraising thanks to the economy.