January 14, 2019

As federal shutdown continues, funding deadlines for domestic violence efforts near

Capitol Hill Building, Washington DC

Organizations that provide shelter, advocacy and support for survivors of intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual assault will start losing money later this week because of both the government shutdown and because Congress let the Violence Against Women Act lapse over a month ago.

Nearly 35 local agencies provide care in New Mexico, and each and every one receives federal money. Most of the services are funded by a combination of direct federal, state and local grants. The Department of Justice (DOJ), for example, provides grants, either directly or as part of the New Mexico Crime Victims Reparation Commission (CVRC).

New Mexico operations will continue normally until Jan. 18, said MaryEllen Garcia, the grants bureau chief at the CVRC. After that date, if the shutdown continues, federal offices will no longer be open to disperse federal funds.

CVRC receives grants from two DOJ sources: the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) and the Office of Victims of Crime. CVRC then distributes state and federal funds to nonprofit, nongovernmental and governmental services. While the OVW staff are exempt from the shutdown, the office that distributes their funds, is not.

The Office of Justice programs, which manages the grants database for OVW will only be funded through Jan. 18, after that date, no grants will be able to be distributed.

But Garcia urged caution when speculating what might happen if the shutdown continues.

“I think it is dangerous to have a knee-jerk reaction to anything that happens, because we have seen this happen in the past,” she said. “We need to be strategic and methodical in the way that we approach factual information.”

Garcia said impacts on services would not be felt until February.

“As all those funds are on a reimbursement basis, all of our programs will be fully funded up to the most recent invoice,” Garcia said “Our programs will not go without funding unless [the shutdown] continues into late February.”

According to Senate and stakeholder sources who spoke with DOJ on this issue, currently, DOJ only has enough money to fund Office of Justice Programs through Jan. 18.

‘I don’t think we should panic, I think we should plan’

In 2018, the CVRC awarded just over $1.2 million in grants to New Mexico organizations, which advocates say are vital for operations to continue.

Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, the Legislative Director at the New Mexico Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CADV)*, says the loss will disproportionately impact small, rural agencies, but all will feel the budget crunch.

“The level of hurt for agencies is going to vary, based on their amount of federal funding, but all agencies receive money from the CVRC and so everyone will feel the effect,” Sedillo Lopez said.

She’s especially concerned about rural community organizations, which receive  few private donations, and have very small or no reserves at all. Sedillo Lopez disagreed with Garcia that services could be relatively normal through late February. She said that organizations with large reserves fear operations could stop much faster after Jan. 18.

“Some of the larger agencies told me they maybe could operate two weeks. Maybe,” she said.

Sedillo Lopez said shelters rely on VAWA Housing protections with help from Housing and Urban Development (HUD), but requests for funding will unable to be processed after Jan. 18.

Usually women with children in domestic violence programs receive priority supplemental funding from HUD to pay rent and, Sedillo Lopez said will put people in danger.

“Some of these people, when they vacate, may go back to their abuser, because they have no choice,” Sedillo Lopez said. “This puts domestic violence survivors—and especially their children—at risk.” Sedillo Lopez said the Jan. 18 deadline is fast approaching, and service providers and survivors need the stability of a plan.

“I don’t think we should panic, I think we should plan,” she said. “It’s really really important that we create some contingency plans to keep services open.”

The shutdown directly impacts roughly 800,000 federal employees in nine agencies, over half of whom are still working without a paycheck, while the rest are furloughed.

The shutdown halted food quality checks, airplane safety inspections. Even more programs — including food assistance programs and low-income housing—have only a short window before experiencing drastic drop-offs in services.

The Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) expired on Friday, Dec. 7 at midnight under a sunset clause. Congress failed to reauthorize the law when appropriations to fund government agencies operating on temporary budgets was not passed right before Christmas.

Congress cannot reauthorize VAWA until  Congress passes a spending bill to reopen the government.

VAWA was first passed in 1994, funding programs to “aid women survivors of intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual assault” and has since been reauthorized four times.

VAWA funds are managed by both the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS was fully funded in September 2018 appropriations and their programs are unaffected by shutdown. The DOJ is unable to fulfill payment requests after Jan. 18, until a new budget for this year is passed.

The House of Representatives passed two spending bills last Thursday when Congress went into a new session, with a Democratic majority, including a reauthorization of VAWA.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland has said she will co-sponsor VAWA’s reintroduction and emphasized the expiration impacts  Native communities.

“This reauthorization is particularly important for tribal communities that will benefit from added protections for children, tribal officers, and missing and murdered Native women,” Haaland said in an emailed statement.

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall said VAWA provides crucial support to combat domestic violence for vulnerable citizens.

“If the president continues to hold government services hostage, this could lead to major lapses in funding that push countless domestic violence response and prevention programs to the financial brink. Survivors deserve better,” Udall said in a statement.

Trump said earlier this month the shutdown may last for “months or even years.”

*Note: Since speaking to Sedillo Lopez, she was appointed to the state Senate by the Bernalillo County Commission.