VOCA Funding FY21 — Call to Action #StandWithSurvivors

Cause for Concern:

SCCADVASA, our member organizations, and myriad other organizations and advocates across the nation are extremely concerned with the proposed radical decrease (approx. 40%) in the VOCA cap proposed in the Senate’s FY21 spending bill and coinciding lack of urgently needed VOCA legislative fix.

Here is a letter that was sent to the full Congress signed by over 1,400 national, regional, state/territorial, tribal and local organizations about the VOCA fix.

Local & State Media Coverage:

Negative Impact to Date:

While we recognize that this has been an extremely challenging year for everyone, it has been especially difficult for these agencies who are serving victims of domestic and sexual violence in South Carolina provide services within the demands of the pandemic who’ve experienced:

  • An 18% cut in VOCA funding
  • A huge decrease in ability to fundraise from private and business donors due to the cancellation of events and economic impacts of the community health crisis
  • A decrease in state appropriations of $800,000 to domestic violence programs
  • The additional costs incurred in the necessity of shifting shelter services from communal living facilities to hotels to allow social distancing of clients
  • The need to transform services almost overnight from in-person to remote while still observing confidentiality within effective advocacy and support

Further Harm of Proposed Reductions:

Further reductions in VOCA funding and the continuing instability in the fund will create enormous hardship to the sustainability of these organizations, severely impact the provision of critical, lifesaving services, and lead to the lay-off of potentially hundreds of advocates across the state.

One of the effects of the pandemic has been to increase the levels and severity of domestic violence and child abuse while the ability of victims to seek (or for teachers and family members to recognize that help is needed) has decreased. It is highly likely that demand for advocacy, support and shelter will increase in the coming months. The proposed cut will decimate services and leave thousands of victims and survivors with nowhere to turn for help as they seek safety and healing from violence.

What Member Organizations say a 40% cut in funding would mean:

Cumbee Center to Assist Abused Persons, Inc. serves domestic violence and sexual violence victims in Aiken County. They lost $71,000 with the 18% VOCA cut in 2019/2020. An additional 40% cut for 2020/2021 would result in a loss of $130,000. The loss of funding would create a potential for losing 3 positions and would prevent us from capacity building.

Family Justice Center of Georgetown and Horry Counties is a unique collaboration of community partners and agencies working together to provide a safe and welcoming environment for the victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse. “If we are facing a 40% cut in VOCA funding that could potentially eliminate our satellite office staff in Horry which is so vital as so many of our clients live in that county. It will also eliminate several positions at our main office including our children’s counselor and court advocate.”

Hopeful Horizons, our member organization based in Beaufort provides domestic violence, sexual assault and child advocacy center services to Beaufort, Hampton, Jasper, Allendale and Colleton counties. A 40% cut in VOCA funding would result in the loss of $550,000 for Hopeful Horizons. It would likely mean eliminating a minimum of 10 direct service staff positions across the organization along with funding that helps staff travel to provide services over a five county area and funding to pay rent and keep the lights on as well as funding for training to ensure staff are providing the best possible services to victims.

My Sister’s House, a domestic abuse shelter serving Charleston reports in the article linked above that losing $176,000 would decimate the community services that they’ve built up over the past couple years and would likely lead to layoffs of the entire clinical team, which would be devastating and could cause them to close completely. 

Pickens County Advocacy Center would “receive a $116,000 cut in our budget with the 40% cut that would result from the proposed Senate spending bill.  We received a $68, 000 cut in our VOCA funding this year, and have lost another large grant and had to cancel two fundraisers due to the COVID health crisis. This further cut would potentially mean we would lose 2-3 staff members (out of 9 total).”

Safe Harbor, the domestic violence shelter and support organization serving Greenville, Oconee, Pickens and Anderson counties reports that a 40% cut in VOCA funding would result in the loss of 2 Counselors providing services to adult survivors, 1 Child and Family Counselor, a Crisis line Advocate and 5 PT shelter staff—nights and weekends.

Safe Passage, Inc serves York, Chester, Lancaster, and Union counties. “For Safe Passage, a 40% cut in VOCA funds would be a loss of $393K. Without this funding we would lose 7 full-time positions. Our SA and DV programs would be without a full-time advocate. Due to the 18% funding cut during FY20 we eliminated a rural office location, 2 full-time positions, travel, supplies, and operating costs. We, like similar agencies, are already struggling to adequately service victims in the several counties that we cover. Any additional funding decreases could decimate our services.”

Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands (STSM) is a local nonprofit that provides services for sexual assault survivors and their loved ones in five counties: Richland, Lexington, Newberry, Clarendon, and Sumter. “Last year, the 18% reduction in VOCA funding resulted in the loss of over $300,000. We were forced to reduce staffing and close office locations. A 40% reduction in funding would be catastrophic for survivors in our service area. If action isn’t taken before December 11th, our agency alone, stands to next year lose approximately $561,000 in critical grant funding.”

Over 3,500 survivors of domestic violence and their children in Richland, Lexington, Newberry, Fairfield and Kershaw counties would be denied Sistercare’s safe space, counseling, advocacy and legal representation as a result of a 40% reduction in VOCA funding. Such a substantial funding loss would necessitate the elimination of nine shelter and community-based counselors and advocates, crisis line staff, and an attorney who together provide crisis services, counseling for adult survivors, children’s counseling, court advocacy, and legal representation. During the pandemic when Sistercare has experienced an 85% increase in crisis calls from victims requesting critical services, a severe reduction in funding could result in increased domestic violence in our community.

**Every one of SCCADVASA’s twenty-two member organizations will experience similar extreme challenges to those listed above. Some will have to close their doors completely.**

CALL TO ACTION: #StandWithSurvivors

You Can Help Victims & Survivors of Domestic and Sexual Violence

Below is a template that can be easily copy pasted for your use as well as images you can use on social media. It is critical that we communicate the specific impact of these cuts on our local providers and communities.

 

Dear Congressman [Congressman’s Last Name],

My name is [your name], and I am a constituent writing you from [your location]. At [your local community agency’s name], they are critical service providers to victims of [domestic violence, sexual assault], providing safe shelter, legal advocacy, counseling and other supportive services to victims and survivors. They are also leaders in the community in prevention efforts and awareness programs to reduce the devastating toll violence takes on families. This year has seen additional challenges to the provision of services as they work to develop new methods of reaching and assisting victims during the pandemic.

Domestic and Sexual violence organizations, like other community and criminal justice system service providers for programs serving survivors of child abuse, trafficking, drunk driving, homicide, and other crimes, rely heavily on Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) grants. VOCA also supplements state victim compensation funds. VOCA grants are not taxpayer-funded; instead, VOCA is funded by monetary penalties from federal criminal convictions. As the Department of Justice is entering into more deferred prosecution and non-prosecution agreements, the money available for VOCA grants has dropped dramatically. As a result, grants for victim services were cut 25% last year, and victim service providers are facing further potentially catastrophic cuts in their VOCA grants in the coming year.

For this reason, we urge House and Senate Appropriators to release as much as possible from the Crime Victims Fund in the FY21 Appropriations budget. In addition, we urge including a VOCA Fix in the Omnibus spending bill that seeks to put VOCA grants on a more sustainable path. You may have already received a letter on this fix. Among other things, this fix redirects monetary penalties from deferred and non-prosecution agreements to the VOCA fund and increase the federal government’s contribution to state victim compensation funds.

As a constituent and as someone who cares deeply about victims and survivors, I urge you to take immediate action in support of the solutions included in the letter above.

With deep concern,

[your name]