MANKATO — A key funding source for agencies serving domestic violence survivors could be in jeopardy as soon as next year, raising concerns among advocates.
Funds from the Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA, and Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, contribute to nonprofits operating shelters and other services for survivors. VOCA’s funding is drying up, while VAWA’s reauthorization has been languishing in the U.S. Senate since early 2019.
Minnesota nonprofits aren’t impacted yet, but could be hit hard as soon as fall 2021 if the issues aren’t resolved.
A 50% VOCA reduction would amount to about $560,000 less funding for the Committee Against Domestic Abuse alone, said Executive Director Jason Mack. The state could decide to fill the gap, but similar organizations in need of help would make for a massive investment.
“I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but I also don’t want to be naively optimistic either,” Mack said. “We’re talking about big dollar amounts, so we need to be realistic about that.”
The VOCA money — totaling about $30 million for Minnesota agencies — comes from the Crime Victims Fund, created in 1984 to steer fines collected after federal convictions to victim compensation and victim assistance agencies. The Volkswagen emissions scandal was one of the most prominent cases fueling the fund, adding $2.8 billion.
Pending cases — a StarKist tuna price fixing scheme among them — are unlikely to come anywhere near the Volkswagen penalty. It can take years to build such cases, and the fund’s size can be dependent on how much zeal a given federal administration has for rooting out corporate wrongdoing.
A proposed cap on VOCA funding could further limit how much domestic violence agencies receive. The move comes in response to the huge amount that came into the fund from the Volkswagen case, said Liz Richards, executive director at Violence Free Minnesota.
Rather than allowing big cases to build a reserve for use during lean years, the cap could send excess funding into the federal government’s general fund. Expanding the scope of cases funding VOCA to civil fines and fees could be one way to keep the fund going, Richards said.
“We’re hoping that there is some change on the federal front that will maintain steady VOCA funding,” she said. “The crisis comes if nothing changes.”
VAWA funding — $2 million going to Minnesota agencies — is still being distributed until reauthorization by the U.S. Senate, although it’s not a major funding source for CADA. The reauthorization is unlikely to happen while impeachment deliberations continue.
As nonprofits gear up for a possible 2021 VOCA shortfall, Richards said they plan to educate Minnesota legislators about how domestic violence programs are funded. The state provides about $23 million to the nonprofits, but more could be needed if the federal money continues to dry up or is capped.
“Should the worst-case scenario come about and we have a significant loss in federal funding, of course we’re going to be turning to the state and talking to them about stepping up,” Richards said.
Mack touched on the funding issue during CADA’s 40th anniversary event in November. He brought it up to highlight the need for continued support for programs supporting domestic violence survivors.
Minnesota had at least 14 deaths caused by intimate partner violence in 2018, the most recent available data from Violence Free Minnesota. Four of them were either bystanders or interveners.
Three of the deaths occurred in south-central Minnesota. Joyce Engelbrecht and Rachel Linder of St. James were murdered by the former’s husband, while Lori Moore of Beauford was murdered by her husband.