Sequestration Nation: Budget Cuts Endanger Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victims
SOURCE: AP/Gary Kazanjian
Author’s note: On Capitol Hill “sequestration” may mean a percentage point or two in lower GDP growth, but beyond the Beltway it is more than an abstract economic concept. It means real pain for real people.
Each week in our “Sequestration Nation” series, we will highlight examples of the many ways in which the federal budget cuts may hurt you and your neighbors. This week we explore sequestration’s impact on victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
According to the Department of Justice, more than 1 million women will fall victim to domestic violence this year alone. For these women and their children, however, sequestration is another form of victimization.
In “Sequestration Nation,” we have highlighted the appalling irony of Congress’s determination to resolve the flight delays caused by sequestration while ignoring the effects of sequestration on the most vulnerable Americans. From homebound seniors who rely on Meals on Wheels for nutrition and human interaction to low-income families being pushed to the brink of homelessness, sequestration is taking an immense toll on those who can least afford it. As is the case with dialysis patients in Canton, Ohio, where sequestration may literally be a matter of life or death, victims of domestic violence and sexual assault are similarly at risk. According to our analysis of the most recent data available, sequestration will cut more than $26 million this year from services that support victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Sequestration’s cuts will reduce the federal government’s ability to enforce the recently reauthorized Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, and the Family Violence Prevention Services Act, or FVPSA. VAWA provides funding to state and local agencies to assist in the prosecution of domestic-violence crimes, while FVPSA provides state and local grants to run support and prevention programs, as well as shelters for women and children. Kim Gandy, president and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence, recently characterized these programs as “really vital services to people who are already in a terrible situation and really in need of emergency services—and there aren’t alternatives.”
The effects of the cuts are already being felt across the country. Last month we highlighted the plight of the Shade Tree, a Las Vegas shelter for abused women whose federal funding was cut by 15 percent beginning on March 1. Marlene Richter, executive director of the Shade Tree, explained that the shelter was going through reserves to the tune of $50,000 a month even before sequestration, so the reduced funding was “[t]he last thing [the shelter] needed.”
What’s more, these sequestration cuts come on top of decreases in public and private funding for domestic-abuse shelters as a result of the weak economy. In Shreveport, Louisiana, the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners group, a local nonprofit that provides sexual-assault examination services, may be forced to close entirely, as sequestration will result in its annual budget being slashed in half—from $400,000 to $200,000.
Meanwhile, in Portland, Oregon, the American Overseas Domestic Violence Crisis Center, which operates a 24-hour crisis hotline to assist abused American women in 175 countries around the world, may also have to close due to sequestration. Founder Paula Lucas, a survivor of domestic abuse in the United Arab Emirates, is troubled by this prospect. “To think that there would be hundreds of women, and maybe now with the sexual assault piece, thousands of women that maybe need help and we’re not there,” Lucas said. “That would be very tragic for a lot of people who rely on us for that support.”
And in Ogden, Utah, the Your Community Connection center is literally turning away domestic violence victims due to their lack of funding. Julee Smith, the director of the center, recalls that, “We literally had a lady call, she had four children and begged to get in our shelter. She said, ‘I have 45 minutes to get out.’ And we said ‘We’re sorry, we don’t have any room.’ And then the police call and say that she has been abused again.”
Sequestration’s effects on victims of domestic violence in communities nationwide are occurring while there has been heightened scrutiny over sexual assault in the military. In January of this year, Paula Coughlin, the whistleblower of the infamous Tailhook scandal in 1991, noted on Capitol Hill that the piecemeal reforms that have been made to prevent military sexual assaults are simply insufficient because prosecution rates for these crimes in the military lag far behind those among the general public. And just as sequestration is hampering the prevention of domestic violence and sexual assault in the civilian population, it is also making it more difficult for the military to prevent these crimes within their ranks.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) is currently leading the congressional effort to reform the Uniform Military Code of Justice to improve the reporting and prosecution of sexual assault in the armed services. This April, however, U.S. Army officials reported that the $7.6 billion in required sequestration cuts to the Army will, among other things, force cuts to the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention Program, doing everything “from slowing hiring actions, to delaying lab results which hinders our ability to provide resolution for victims,” said Army Secretary John McHugh and Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno in a written statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee
While many agree that the Pentagon’s budget should be trimmed, preventing and prosecuting the sexual assault of people who risk their lives in our country’s defense is not an area that should be cut. Ironically, just two weeks ago the U.S. Air Force’s top official in charge of preventing sexual assault within their ranks was arrested on a charge of sexual assault. Herein lies the painful irrationality of sequestration: It indiscriminately lumps in good cuts with bad cuts.
Rather than continuing to lump in the good with the bad, Congress should replace the required across-the-board cuts with a balanced approach to spending cuts and increased revenue.
Elsewhere around the country, sequestration continues to affect the lives of Americans. Below are just a few of the many examples.
The loss of low-income housing vouchers due to sequestration affects everyone, and Adrianne Todman, executive director of the District of Columbia Housing Authority, wants you to “[b]e upset. Because what will happen if we can’t house families, the families don’t disappear, they don’t vanish. … They’re on the streets. They’re in your neighborhoods. They’re next to your 7-Elevens and your Starbucks.”
Just outside the nation’s capital in Montgomery County, Maryland, the problem is particularly acute due to the Washington, D.C. area’s high housing prices. While the average housing-voucher recipient in Montgomery County makes about $1,333 a month, apartments in the county rent for an average of $1,442 a month.
Despite her two bachelor’s degrees and a master’s degree currently underway, Merceda Gooding of Gaithersburg “can’t even find a job that pays a living wage so [she] can get off the [housing voucher] program.” As a result of the $5 million to $6 million cut in the county’s program, the Montgomery County Housing Opportunities Commission will be forced to eliminate 18 jobs as well as scale back on vouchers to recipients such as Gooding who are on the brink of homelessness.
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Sequestration is hitting some local governments harder than others. Ravalli County, Montana, is one such county that is being hit particularly hard by federal budget cuts. This is because, according to The Missoulian, “For almost 100 years, counties whose borders included national forest lands were paid a quarter of the revenue from timber sold on federal lands.” The annual Payment in Lieu of Taxes check sent to Ravalli County by the federal government is meant to help compensate for the fact that the county is prohibited from developing the national forests located within its borders in order to spur economic growth and increase local tax revenues. This annual payment from the federal government will be reduced by 5 percent this year as a result of sequestration. The funds received by Ravalli County are dedicated to maintaining the county’s roads and public schools. County Commissioner Greg Chilcott sees this as “a contractual obligation that the federal government has failed to honor. Before they came in and claimed the national forests, those were county lands that were open to economic opportunity.”
One unfortunate theme of sequestration that has begun to emerge is the extent to which federal budget cuts are reducing communities’ ability to prepare for and respond to natural disasters. From hurricane preparedness in South Florida to fighting wildfires in California, sequestration is making communities less safe.
Similarly, in the Midwest, sequestration is forcing the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, to quit operating several of the stream gauges that are critical to providing flood warnings because they continuously monitor the amount and quality of water in a particular waterway. In Nebraska, officials must cope with the shutdown of four stream gauges in rivers around the state. In addition to keeping officials appraised of conditions that could indicate an impending flood, according to Tim Boyle of the USGS, they also “help monitor possible effects of climate change and unusual weather events over long periods of time.”
Sequestration will force Luzerne County’s Head Start program to “reduce the number of slots by 49 children, cut the staff by six to eight employees and no longer provide transportation for 80 children in response to an approximately $420,000 cut.” These service reductions come despite the fact that the county’s annual waiting list for Head Start can grow to up to 700 children. Thanks to sequestration, this waiting list will grow in spite of the large body of research indicating that, “Head Start generates long-term improvements in important outcomes such as schooling attainment, earnings, and crime reduction.”
According to Karen Grimm-Thomas, assistant director of the Pennsylvania Head Start Association, these cuts come at a particularly difficult time for local agencies. “Head Start programs already don’t serve the number of children who are eligible,” she said. “Now we’re going to see a greater percentage of children come to kindergarten ill-prepared.”
Kwame Boadi is a Policy Analyst at the Center for American Progress.
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