Government shutdown leaves domestic violence victims stranded

Service providers across the country prepare for the worst as the shutdown threatens to cut off funding entirely

Published October 4, 2013 4:33PM (EDT)

       (Heather Martino via Flickr Creative Commons)
(Heather Martino via Flickr Creative Commons)

Domestic violence and rape crisis service providers across the country have received notice from federal officials that if the government shutdown carries on past Friday, they will no longer have access to the federal funds that keep them open and running, leaving countless victims stranded.

As Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress notes, some of these facilities may be able to weather the funding freeze while others, specifically rural programs that rely heavily on federal money, are looking at the possibility of laying off staff or shutting down entirely.

A domestic violence and rape crisis service provider in California shared her (or his) experience in the face of the funding crisis, along with the letter alerting centers to the freeze, with Andrew Sullivan's The Dish:

I run a small, rural domestic violence and rape crisis center in Northern California. We are the only provider of this kind for the entire county and we are supported through funds from the Violence Against Women Act. We just received this email from our grant monitor in Sacramento regarding our federal funds:

"Office of Justice Programs (OJP) have sufficient resources to remain operational through Friday, October 4, 2013.  This means that OJP staff will be available to assist grantees and OJP payment systems and services will be available through October 4, 2013. Should funding not be restored by October 4, 2013, OJP will cease all operations and California will not be able to draw down funds and reimburse your invoices."

This means the State of California cannot draw down the VAWA funds to pay us for our services – which by the way, are mandated by law. We are not quality-of-life providers, like social services, but we’re not quite emergency services providers either, like law enforcement. We are somewhere in between and apparently not considered essential.

I can tell you with some certainty that many of the rural domestic violence shelters (who don’t have wealthy communities to draw from) will not be operational should the VAWA funding not be rolling down as scheduled. I can also tell you with certainty, that right now almost every shelter in the State is housing not only adult victims of abuse, but many, many children, all of whom may be forced to hit the rickety road soon, compliments of the mostly males members of the “shutdown coalition”.

This is not an isolated incident, as Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, told ThinkProgress. “The whole country has been told the same thing by the Office on Violence Against Women,” she said. “We also have coalitions across the country that have been unable to draw down their reimbursements from FVPSA [Family Violence Prevention and Services Act] for funds already expended, which means they don’t have operating funds going forward. Some are already discussing layoffs.”

The timing couldn't be worse. Funding for sexual assault and domestic violence programs was already limited due to previous cuts in state and federal budgets, and as many domestic violence service providers face even sharper budget shortfalls, the demand for services is higher than ever. Eighty percent of domestic violence service providers surveyed reported a dramatic increase in women seeking assistance in 2012, a year when many were forced to lay off crucial staff due to a lack of funds.

By Katie McDonough

Katie McDonough is Salon's politics writer, focusing on gender, sexuality and reproductive justice. Follow her on Twitter @kmcdonovgh or email her at

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