A Wish List Isn’t Good Enough for DC’s Victims of Domestic Violence

April 26th, 2012 | by Lindsey Bartlett, Policy Attorney, DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence

Last year, 33,000 District residents received life-saving services, including legal assistance and a place to live, from non-profits who receive funding from the District’s Office of Victim Services. Yet under Mayor Gray’s proposed fiscal year (FY) 2013 budget, these critical services would be drastically reduced.

According to budget documents, the Office of Victim Services—which is now part of the Deputy Mayor for Public Safety—would see a $1.2 million reduction next year. However, in a DC Council budget hearing last week, city officials revealed that actually $2.1 million  would be needed to maintain current services for next year. Mayor Gray has put the program on his “contingent revenue wish list,” a list of services that will get funded if revenues rise above expected projections.  It is  fifth on the list of 25 items and would need $67.3 million in additional citywide revenue growth in order to get funded. But wishing isn’t going to help the thousands of women, men, and children who are in danger due to domestic violence and abuse.

This is not the first year that victim services money has been cut.  Seven programs previously funded by this office had funding completely eliminated in FY 2012. In addition, all of the city’s domestic violence shelters had their funding cut by 10 percent this year. How could this happen? The Office of Victim Services receives federal and local funding and has two special purpose revenue funds: the Victim Assistance Fund and the Shelter Fund.  Each year, half of the surplus  from a crime victims compensation program is transferred to the victim assistance fund, but the transfer doesn’t occur until after the DC Council votes on the budget. That means the victim services office has to make spending decisions based on what they predict the transfer will be. Unfortunately, victim services spent more money than was actually transferred this year in order to maintain services, revealing a gaping hole that now must be plugged.  Beyond that,  funds from  the Crime Victims Compensation Fund  were never intended to be a permanent funding stream for the city’s victim services.

The Shelter Fund was intended to serve as emergency funding for the District’s three domestic violence shelters. Only  $1.4 million remains, after spending down the fund over the past two years. If depleted, the Shelter Fund can no longer secure domestic violence housing and will place housing programs in jeopardy.  

The combination of the problems in the Shelter Fund, the hole from the victim assistance fund, and a slight gap  in federal funding  results in  $2.1 gap in the budget.  This amount is needed simply maintain the current status quo, which as noted includes significant cuts from recent years. Without more money appropriated to the Office of Victim Services, the agency will have no choice but to cut funding to more non-profits, and the domestic violence shelters will be forced to decrease capacity. This will force victims of domestic violence to choose between safety for themselves and their children or homelessness. There are choices none of us should be forced to make. Victim service agencies have repeatedly been asked to do more with less, and it is imperative for the District to step up and provide $2.1 million to prevent drastic service cuts for victims of domestic violence and other crimes, and keep $2.6 million at minimum on the wish list to restore the cuts in fiscal years 2011 and 2012.

For more information, please contact Lindsey Bartlett of the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence, lbartlett@dccadv.org.

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