Note: The following item was provided by Our House for publication on – KtE

CEDARTOWN – Victim services programs throughout Georgia are grappling with tough economic times. Approximately 80% of total funding available for domestic violence and sexual assault centers in Georgia is federal dollars.

One of the primary sources of federal dollars to programs nationwide, the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA,) has been drying up over the last few years. VOCA is financed by the Crime Victims Fund, which consists of fines and penalties paid by convicted federal offenders, not from tax dollars. Due to fluctuations in the Crime Victims Fund, between fiscal years 2018 and 2021, Georgia’s allocation of VOCA funding experienced a 67% drop – from $105 million per year to just $35 million.

The issue was compounded for domestic violence and sexual assault centers between fiscal years 2019 and 2020 when other major federal funding sources. VOCA is a primary funding streams that centers such as Our House rely on to keep their doors open.

In Georgia, it is the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) which is primarily responsible for distribution of federal funds to domestic violence and sexual assault centers. CJCC has faced the tough task of dividing the shrinking pot of victim services funds across more than 260 victim services providers statewide, all teh while advocating on the federal level for changes needed to stabilize Georgia’s victim services programs.

Programs including rape crisis centers, domestic violence shelters, child advocacy centers, anti-sex trafficking programs, programs for homicide survivors, and other programs helping victims and survivors all receive VOCA funds in Georgia.

On July 22, 2021, President Biden signed into law the VOCA Fix to Sustain the Crime Victim Funds Act of 2021. The bill will eventually provide more federal dollars to state victim service providers. However, after years of steep decline, it will take time for the Crime Victims Fund to recover. That means relief is coming, but not fast enough. Without assistance, it is anticipated that Georgia victim services programs will lose more than 400 front line employees around the state.

In 2022, domestic violence and sexual assault centers received 20% of funding reductions in their VOCA Awards. CJCC was able to offset those cuts to programs with one-time allocation of funds under the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program (CESF). Unfortunately, CJCC is projecting an additional 17% reduction in VOCA fund awards to victim services providers for FY 2023, resulting in a total loss of 37% ($30 million) federal funding cut to agencies serving victims of crime.

Our House Executive Director Kelsei Poulin said “This cut has potential to not only affect our services but put victims in direct harm’s way. If we can’t serve them, where will they go? That answer scares me, because it means they will be home with their abusers.”

Our House is joining domestic violence and sexual assault programs across the state in a request to Governor Brian Kemp and our elected officials to provide a bridge across the federal funding gap by offsetting the state’s 37% VOCA cuts by allocating federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to victim services. Kemp holds the keys to Georgia’s $4.8 billion of American Rescue Plan State Fiscal Recovery Funds (FRF) coming to Georgia.

Twenty-two states have used FRF to support human services programs, with three states devoting 30% or more of their allocations to date, for this purpose. Advocates across the state are calling for Kemp to utilize those funds to cover the $11.2 million in anticipated cuts to domestic violence and sexual assault victim service providers.

Poulin adds “This funding cut comes after some of our most needed times, COVID created the perfect storm for domestic violence. The past year has been some of the busiest times since Our House was founded. How are we supposed to jut end 37% of what we provide to victims? We cannot, so we need help.”

Our House is not alone. Victim services programs throughout Georgia have experienced a surge in demands for services throughout the pandemic rendering the thought of cuts to services particularly difficult to fathom. Domestic violence and sexual assault program leaders are quick to note that this funding crisis is not a problem of Georgia’s creation, but it is one that Georgia’s Governor and Legislators can help resolve.

About Our House: Our House is a 24/7 domestic violence services providing services to all victims in Polk and Haralson County. Our House Crisis lines (770-749-9330) receives on average 3-4 calls a day with request for services. Our mission “to provide safety and supportive services to victims of domestic violence and to increase community awareness and involvement.”

To obtain resources and support: If you or someone you know is being abused, there are community and statewide resources available to you. Call 770-749-9330 (English/Spanish/TTY,) the 24-hour domestic violence hotline, for a confidential place to get help or find resources.

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