By Veronica Guevara, director of equity and inclusion for the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Together, public and private funds support Iowa programs that increase safety for victims of violent crime, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC). From crisis response and counseling services, to assistance finding safe, affordable housing, victim service agencies provide highly effective and essential support to survivors.
Iowa’s culturally specific programs (CSPs) provide comprehensive, trauma-informed and culturally responsible services to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, homicide and other violent crimes in communities of color.
A devastating cut in federal funds for crime victim services will immediately reduce the capacity of local programs to meet the needs of victims. Iowa’s Crime Victim Assistance Division estimates this reduction in funds means 5,000 fewer crime victims will be served by local programs in the upcoming fiscal year, and more than 23,000 fewer victims served the following year. State legislators must increase funding for crime victim services starting with at least a $2.5 million increase in this year’s budget.
As agencies providing services to victims facing the biggest barriers to safety and access, and historically, are disproportionately impacted by cuts, the timing could not be worse for a loss in funds. Amid a global pandemic that not only introduced a crisis within the crisis of family violence, but also exacerbated disparities for BIPOC within the systems survivors depend on, Embarc, Nisaa, Amani, Luna, Monsoon and Rise never stopped providing support and resources to victims. The violence didn’t stop because of COVID-19 – in fact, it is worse – and has increased obstacles to safety for victims, and makes providing services more expensive and the needs of victims more comprehensive. It also curtails efforts to raise private funds and utilize volunteers. This begs the question, in a time when the need for services is so high, why are we not increasing investments in services to support crime victims?
Massive cuts in federal grants through the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) – the largest source of non-taxpayer funds for victim services nationwide – resulted in a decrease of $6 million dollars to Iowa in FY21. Congress is advancing legislation to increase deposits, but it will take time – several years – to replenish funds for VOCA grants.
Supporting crime victims takes all of us. The loss in funds to victims is not a problem for only Congress to fix. Victim service providers, especially those working with BIPOC and marginalized communities, have long needed state legislators to invest additional state funding toward addressing unmet needs our communities have vocalized are imperative to safety – housing, medical care, legal assistance, childcare, economic advocacy, employment and food security.
Regardless of the amount of federal funds Iowa receives, state funds support the foundation of our nationally recognized model of service delivery. In 2017, legislators slashed state funding for victim services by 25 percent – almost $2 million – citing the robust federal funds Iowa received. As a result, local agencies like ours are as lean as possible, leaving victims without support and services; without access to healing; and without access to safety.
Crime victims face numerous challenges recovering from harm. Access to crisis response and stabilizing services should not be one of them. It is essential that state legislators ensure sustainable funding for programs to ensure the diverse and comprehensive needs of ALL victims are met.