Iowa Republicans slash funds for sexual violence and domestic abuse survivors

Times won't be equally tough all over when Republican cuts take effect in the justice systems budget.

The Attorney General's Office receives only about 3 percent of state funding in this area (totaling some $559 million for the next fiscal year) but will absorb about 84 percent of the $2.9 million in cuts Republican lawmakers agreed on behind closed doors. The Department of Corrections, which consumes about three-quarters of justice systems spending, will face a net reduction only $1.6 million, and the Department of Public Safety, which costs six times more to run than the Attorney General's Office, will see a small increase despite the bleak revenue forecast for the state as a whole.

Justice Systems Appropriations Subcommittee Chairman Gary Worthan commented on April 12, "We would have liked to have done better with a lot of areas, but we’re forced to work with the realities of the budget."

Fiscal constraints didn't force anyone to inflict the deepest cuts on Iowans who have already experienced some of this world's harshest realities. Republicans who put together this bill chose to spend 25 percent less next year on grants supporting survivors of sexual violence and domestic abuse.

According to a joint statement from the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, "victim services funding served nearly 47,000 children, women, and men impacted by violence in 2016." Grants provided through this program pay for a wide range of resources:

• Providing support, referrals, and crisis counseling to survivors and their families
• Accompaniment by advocates to hospital exams following abuse, court proceedings, reporting to law enforcement, and more
• Housing assistance, including emergency, transitional, and permanent housing
• Linguistic and culturally specific assistance to diverse communities
• Safety planning for families, including children and pets
• Civil legal assistance and court advocacy to survivors, services that are often necessary to secure a sense of safety and well-being
• Sexual violence prevention programs for schools, colleges, youth-based organizations, faith-based organizations, and more
• Transportation assistances and childcare assistance, especially in rural communities
• Job search coaching, employment assistance, and financial literacy education

Since a 2013 restructuring of statewide victim services—a collaborative effort between both coalitions, comprehensive sexual violence and domestic abuse programs, and state legislators— Iowa now serves as a national model for service delivery to other states. Since then, Iowa victim service programs have seen a 125% increase in the number of sexual violence survivors served, and a 45% increase in the number of domestic abuse survivors served.

State lawmakers allocated $6,734,400 for victim assistance during the 2016 legislative session. The mid-year budget shortfall reduced actual spending for the current fiscal year to $6,466,708. Governor Terry Branstad's revised budget for fiscal year 2018 proposed spending $6,448,188 on victim assistance grants.

The joint House and Senate Republican justice systems appropriations bill unveiled on April 12 allocates $5,016,708 to those grants, more than 25 percent below the original 2017 appropriation and 22 percent below actual spending on victim services this year.

James Q. Lynch reported for the Cedar Rapids Gazette,

In considering the Judicial Systems budget, Democrats were concerned that $2.45 million — or more than 80 percent of the cuts — came from the attorney general’s budget. That’s $1.45 million less for the victims’ assistance fund and $1 million less for the general office fund, which supports core functions.

Sen. Nate Boulton, D-Des Moines, pointed out that the attorney general generates revenue for the state. For example, this year the office turned over more than $12 million in consumer protection settlements.

“It brought in millions that helped us survive budget cuts this year,” Boulton said.

Cuts to victim assistance grants would damage the programs that helps more than 46,000 Iowans, said Rep. Marti Anderson, D-Des Moines.

“I don’t see that anywhere else in the budget,” she said about the 22 percent cut. The funds come from criminal fines and penalties, not tax dollars. “The cut speaks volumes about the state’s priorities about a problem that affects one in four women.”

In their statement, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence warned,

“This kind of significant cut to victim service agencies will create immediate and harmful consequences for survivors,” says Beth Barnhill, Executive Director for IowaCASA. “A reduction in state funds greatly limits access to services and options for some of our most vulnerable community members. Rural offices are most at risk for being shut down under the proposed budget cuts, leaving potentially 10,000 survivors without crisis and advocacy services. Supporters of victim services need to contact their legislators and implore them to protect our communities and to help secure the safety and well-being of survivors. Funding for victim services must be a top priority.”

“Cuts to funding will have a devastating and detrimental impact on Iowa survivors,” adds Laurie Schipper, Executive Director for ICADV. “Victim services funding served nearly 47,000 children, women, and men impacted by violence in 2016. With previous support and funding from our elected officials, we’ve seen a 66% increase in the total number of survivors served since 2013. Funding cuts to victim service programs, as proposed in this budget, would shamefully roll back these gains, and threaten the capacity for advocates to provide emergency and post-crisis services to survivors. Without state dollars, agencies can’t pay their rent or keep their lights on. This means fewer offices, fewer advocates, and fewer services. This is unacceptable. Survivors deserve better.”

Survivors won't get what they deserve from this Republican legislature. The joint Justice Systems Appropriations subcommittee approved the bill along party lines on April 12, and the Senate Appropriations Committee followed suit the next day, without amendment to victim services or any other line item.

What a way to mark Sexual Assault Awareness Month and National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

UPDATE: I forgot to list the lawmakers who have already voted for these cuts. Worthan and State Senator Mark Chelgren were the lead negotiators. Other Republicans who approved the justice systems budget in subcommittee: State Senators Dan Dawson and Julian Garrett, and State Representatives David Sieck, Jim Carlin, Ashley Hinson, and Chuck Holz. Republicans who voted for the bill in the Senate Appropriations Committee on April 13: Chelgren, Garrett, Charles Schneider, Tim Kraayenbrink, Mark Costello, Tom Greene, Dennis Guth, Craig Johnson, Mark Lofgren, Ken Rozenboom, Tom Shipley, and Dan Zumbach.

SECOND UPDATE: Democratic State Senator Kevin Kinney recorded a video urging Iowans to contact Chelgren before Monday, April 17, to demand that victims assistance funding be restored. Excerpts:

For 30 years I was a deputy sheriff for the Johnson County Sheriff's Department. I worked hundreds of domestic [violence] and sexual assault investigations. Survivors are often forced to leave their home, lose their job, or even leave their community. Now that I'm a state senator, I can't believe Iowa Republicans plan to cut Iowa victims assistance grants by 22 percent. This is the only help the state of Iowa provides victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

This money helps victims and their children stay safe path to recovery. It would be very wrong to take away this help. Many people will be denied services, and it is likely shelters will close.

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