Shutdown Harming Domestic Violence Programs, Top Senator Says

Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) in a Feb. 2, 2011 file photo.
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Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the author of the Violence Against Women Act, warned that the government shutdown — now in its 12th day — is harming programs aimed at combating domestic abuse.

In a fiery floor speech Saturday, he lamented that furloughs have hit key domestic violence personnell and warned of further harm from diminishing funds for the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs.

“Today, as Federal funds are held hostage by the Tea Party shutdown, we are starting to see the real toll of this brinksmanship,” he said. “This is shameful.”

An excerpt from his epeech:

In Franklin County, Vermont, advocates were hopeful when they learned that a FY14 grant would allow one staff person to help victims of LGBT domestic assault in that rural region. The hope has quickly given way to frustration, when the funding did not come through as promised on October 1.

In Barre City, Vermont, population 9,200, the police force has furloughed two half-time detectives who provide 24/7 coverage for special responses to domestic violence cases. These detectives were also providing critical training to their colleagues on how to answer these challenging calls. 

There is a long list of programs funded with VAWA grants that continue to provide services to victims — and incur the related costs – based on the hope that they will be reimbursed once funding is restored. They have no choice. Despite what the Tea Party might think, closing the spigot on funding does not mean the victims go away.

Perhaps the bigger concern, however, is what will happen to victims and their children when the money for WIC and TANF programs runs dry. We know that many domestic violence survivors rely on these supports when they need to leave their abusers. When combined with impending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), I worry about whether these funding shortfalls will force victims and their children to remain in homes with their abusers. This is shameful.

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