Domestic violence shelters and related agencies brace for big cuts

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Published: Apr. 10, 2021 at 6:27 PM AKDT
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Agencies that work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault across Alaska have been told to expect a major funding cut, likely to come their way when the fiscal year begins July 1.

Suzi Pearson, director of Abused Women’s Aid in Crisis (AWAIC), said she was shocked by the amount of the cuts announced by the State Council on Domestic Abuse and Sexual Assault on April 1.

“When we were told 30 to 33%, I think we all kind of stopped breathing,” Pearson said.

The reductions are the result of funding cuts at the federal level to a program known as the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. The money to fund the act comes from penalties and fines paid by people convicted of federal crimes. The federal money goes first to the Alaska Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, which distributes it in the form of grants to agencies and nonprofits around the state. For many agencies, it’s a main source of funding.

Council Director Diane Casto said the federal funds have been declining every year, from a high of $7.9 million in fiscal year 2018 to a projected low of $2.6 million for FY2021. But Casto said the decline between last year and this year, some 34%, took them by surprise.

“We are very concerned, it is a huge cut,” said Casto. “And it is a huge cut to a very critical service. Alaska continues to have the highest rates of domestic violence and sexual violence around the country and we need these services. They are critical.”

Casto said the funding cuts will be felt by dozens of diverse agencies around the state including those dealing with child abuse, mental health and victim’s compensation. Pearson said in the case of AWAIC, it will mean laying off staff so that critical beds won’t be available for victims of domestic violence.

But while Casto said the cuts would be dire, it’s not exactly clear how much they will be. She said the council has yet to receive an official figure for VOCA funding this year. She also said there are “fixes” on the horizon that could help

“In most years this would be more devastating than it would be this year for one main reason: we have federal dollars set aside specifically for improving the economy of our country,” she said.

Casto said the American Rescue Plan Act includes money within it to fund domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers, although they don’t know how much that will be. In addition, she said, the state is anticipating a large amount of funding from the act, some of which could be set aside for victims’ services.

In the long term, Castro said Congress is looking at a bill that would make changes to the funding formula within the VOCA Act so that more will be available for programs that deal with helping victims. It’s called the VOCA Fix Act, and it was passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in March. If the legislation passes the Senate and becomes law, a more stable source of funding should be available to states in about two years.

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