As federal funding dwindles, Washington groups that work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault urge state lawmakers to step up

click to enlarge As federal funding dwindles, Washington groups that work with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault urge state lawmakers to step up
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Groups that work with crime victims face significant layoffs.

Despite seeing increased need, agencies in Washington that work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault face layoffs and reduced services as their budgets take a significant hit in federal funding.

In Spokane, that could mean losing $300,000 for the YWCA's domestic violence emergency housing program, reduced hours for Lutheran Community Services Northwest's 24-hour sexual assault hotline (which got nearly 2,000 calls in the last year), and the loss of multiple sexual assault and vulnerable adult advocates.

To prevent the looming funding cliff, a coalition of providers is pushing state lawmakers to include $132 million in the two-year budget this year to stabilize their ability to help crime victims.

Affected groups include providers of legal assistance, domestic violence shelters, sexual assault and children's advocacy services, help for vulnerable adults and more. Much of their funding comes from either the state Office of Crime Victims Advocacy or Department of Social and Health Services, which provide both state money and federal dollars from the Victims of Crime Act.

Since 2017, the federal Crime Victims Fund has plummeted from $13 billion to about $1.8 billion. Statewide, Washington expects to see a 35 percent reduction in its annual allocation from that fund for the 2024 fiscal year, which starts in July.

The Crime Victims Fund relies on federal fines, fees and forfeitures. Much of that money comes from federal white collar crime cases, and it's possible the sharp decrease is due to fewer of those crimes being prosecuted in recent years, says Roshelle Cleland, the advocacy and education program director for Lutheran Community Services.

Meanwhile, Washington's funding for domestic violence emergency shelters (about $6.1 million per year statewide) and sexual assault services (about $6.8 million per year statewide) has remained stagnant for more than a decade.

"We haven't seen a cent of an increase in state ongoing funding since then," says Emily Stone, the public policy director for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence, who notes that 39 programs split the domestic violence funding that's remained the same since 2009. "Programs are really, really struggling."

Service providers say they've seen double-digit increases in demand for sexual assault programs and children's advocacy centers in recent years. Domestic violence groups also regularly see far more requests than they can handle.

"We want the state to step up and increase sustainable, ongoing funding, so it's not this guessing game from the federal level of what is going to be distributed," Cleland says.

Otherwise, Lutheran Community Services, which is the official sexual assault advocacy and crime victims center for Spokane County, has been informed that its funding could drop by 17 to 36 percent at the end of June.

The organization helps children and vulnerable adults who've faced everything from violence to financial fraud, and provides 24-hour sexual assault advocates who can help adults with hospital visits, court navigation, safety planning and access to counseling.

If the reduction happens, Lutheran Community Services would lose two to six full-time advocates from a staff of about 15, Cleland says.

"We're working with thousands of individuals, thousands of families every year," Cleland says.

The center could also lose the ability to provide the 24-hour response for sexual assault victims they're required to offer, which is concerning because they already struggle to help everyone who requests their services, Cleland says.

The YWCA expects the gap in domestic violence emergency housing money will be covered with funding from the Spokane city and county governments, so it doesn't anticipate losing staff, for now, according to a statement.

"Programs have shared multiple times that it's hard for them to even do a two-year budget because they don't know what the federal budget is going to look like," Stone says. "[This ask] is really about stable funding and, quite frankly, keeping the doors open." ♦

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About The Author

Samantha Wohlfeil

Samantha Wohlfeil covers the environment, rural communities and cultural issues for the Inlander. Since joining the paper in 2017, she's reported how the weeks after getting out of prison can be deadly, how some terminally ill Eastern Washington patients have struggled to access lethal medication, and other sensitive...