In December, the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) expired and was not reauthorized, threatening organizations and services for victims of domestic and sexual violence around the country with a loss of funding through federal grants.
“Its original intention was to improve criminal justice and community response for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Avaloy Lanning, director of the NewStory Center in Rutland. “(But) they couldn’t get their act together. If it doesn’t get reauthorized, it could be pretty devastating.”
Though there remain spending bills on the tables of the House and Senate to extend VAWA until Feb. 8, the longest-running government shutdown in history prevented the act’s re-authorization and may prevent many of those organizations from receiving their next reimbursement checks.
“VAWA covers a lot,” Lanning said. “Much of our funding is federal pass through money, and we can apply directly for some federal grants. Some money is direct money from the feds, and some money comes direct from the feds, through the state.”
Lanning said the NewStory Center provides the initial funding for every service they provide, whether it’s 24-hour emergency services, access to victims’ advocates, help with relief from abuse orders, warm beds and meals from their food shelf, or sexual assault exams and help finding employment and education.
The Center then applies for grant funding at the end of every quarter. Lanning said the Center has been told it’ll receive funding for the previous quarter but there’s no guarantee regarding the next one.
“Everything we’re doing now, starting Jan. 1., all the housing, services, payroll, we’re doing with our fingers crossed that we’ll get reimbursed come April,” Lanning said.
A continued government shutdown puts the NewStory Center and other social programs in jeopardy, causing the groups to depend on other funding for whatever programs they can manage to keep going.
And in a state where domestic violence comprises 50 percent of all homicides, those programs are crucial.
“In the last fiscal year, we served 700 people total,” Lanning said. “Both primary victims and attendant children through all of our services ... It would be up to us as an organization to raise funds to continue those, and to pay people fairly.”
Lanning said the Center already struggles to utilize the grant funding it receives, as the funds can often only be used for very specific services.
“VAWA is certainly the umbrella legislation that covers this population, victims of domestic and sexual violence,” Lanning said. “Without it, we would go backwards. We don’t want to go back.”
The original VAWA legislation, passed in 1994, was the first to coordinate the criminal justice and social services systems with private nonprofits to create a more concentrated, multi-faceted response to domestic and sexual violence with increased support for shelters and crisis centers.
It also implemented federal prosecution of interstate domestic violence and sexual assault, and protection for immigrants, minority populations and other vulnerable factions, according to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
When it was re-authorized six years later, dating violence and stalking protections were added to VAWA, while also creating a portal for legal aid for victims and supporting supervised visitation for families.
The new legislation also created “U” visas for non-citizen immigrants experiencing violence in the U.S., and “T” visas for victims of human trafficking, allowing them to remain in the country instead of being deported.
In 2005, the legislation was reauthorized again, creating protections specifically for immigrant victims and more specifically, immigrant women, investing in violence prevention programs and protecting victims from eviction resulting directly from domestic violence by eliminating bad rental history that might keep them from leaving their situation.
“If neighbors complained that police kept coming to a house because of domestic violence, then the landlord may kick them out,” Lanning said. “We know as advocates, and people who work on domestic violence, the police may be called multiple times.”
The new legislation also enacted new funding for rape crisis centers, developed communications programs for victims from other cultures, and supported programs for disabled victims.
The act was most recently reauthorized by President Barack Obama in 2013. That bill featured more protection for Native Americans and the LGBTQ community, more resources for law enforcement to address rape and sexual violence, and for colleges to inform students about sexual assault and dating violence.
That bill also gave jurisdiction to tribal courts when domestic violence happened on tribal lands, enforced relief for immigrant victims, and implemented more assistance programs for the LGBTQ community.
But if the shutdown continues, and VAWA isn’t re-authorized, Lanning said there’s no guaranteeing how long the NewStory Center would last.
“Financially, we have some reserves set aside for emergencies, but it wouldn’t keep us going for very long,” Lanning said. “Our services would have to change. We might have to cut office hours, which would mean smaller paychecks ... Ultimately, I would probably lose really good, talented people.”