How the Sequester Hurts Low-Income Domestic Violence Survivors


If Congress is unable to meet its December 13 deadline to address the sequester, the struggle for low-income domestic violence survivors to access safe housing will intensify.

Like a hangover we couldn’t sleep off, the sequester dragged on this year, slashing funding across many government departments. Congress now has until this Friday to figure out a budget for 2014, as well as to address the sequester cuts put into effect by the 2011 Budget Control Act. A deal is necessary to avoid yet another government shutdown (the October shutdown denied nearly two million government workers their pay and completely starved federal agencies of funding).

The effects of the sequester have been far-reaching. In a report last month, the Center for American Progress pointed out, “Economic growth [has been] slower, which means fewer jobs. Children and families lost Head Start preschools. Citizens and immigrants wait in growing backlogs for their day in court. Residents of the western United States face an increased risk of deadly wildfires.” This is to name just a few of the devastating outcomes of economic instability.

If a deal is not reached this week, the sequester is expected to lead to even deeper cuts in 2014. Among the many agencies that would be affected as a result of the sequester are the housing and justice departments—both of which fund services for many low-income women and their children who are escaping domestic violence. Just before the sequester went into effect in March, the Department of Justice (DOJ) reported that it would be dealt the blow of a $1.6 billion funding cut, which would affect services offered by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). As a result of sequestration, the DOJ noted that approximately 35,900 fewer survivors would have assistance in obtaining protection orders, crisis intervention and counseling, sexual assault services, hospital-based advocacy, transitional housing services, and help with civil legal matters. In addition, some 310,600 fewer survivors would have direct victim assistance services through Victims of Crime Act (VOCA)-funded services, according to the National Association of VOCA State Administrators. And an analysis by Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) estimated that 416,500 fewer survivors received life-saving and cost-effective services, including 70,120 fewer survivors having access to domestic violence programs and shelters.

Another of the many ways DV survivors may feel pinched is through access to affordable housing, which many DV survivors rely on when fleeing an abuser. Earlier this year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) expended a one-time “emergency fund” of $103 million. Because of the sequester, Section 8 vouchers were cut between 5 and 9 percent.

“While the impact of the sequestration has manifested slowly, [it is clear there could be] a potential adverse impact that the sequester would have on already underfunded domestic violence programs, such as shelters for survivors,” Karlo Ng, staff attorney at the National Housing Law Project (NHLP), told RH Reality Check.

Due to the cuts in HUD’s Section 8 voucher funding as a result of sequestration, there are concerns from the domestic violence advocacy community that there will not be enough emergency transfer vouchers available for survivors who need them.

VAWA protects people applying for or living in subsidized housing from being discriminated against because of their status as survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, or stalking. Some HUD programs give priority to DV survivors. But according to the National Housing Law Project, it is unclear how tenant protection vouchers will work under VAWA.

Fortunately, even as the sequester has destabilized housing for low-income DV survivors, several states have enacted laws to protect survivors. A report published by NHLP points out that 44 percent of states have laws that provide relocation assistance or the right to emergency shelter for survivors of domestic violence, and 42 percent permit early lease terminations for these tenants.

As Adele Stan wrote for RH Reality Check earlier this year:

If Republicans can claim any sort of victory for having caused pain and economic disruption in the lives of hundreds of thousands of government workers and contractors, and the communities that depend on their labor and income, it’s that they managed to keep the degrading sequester cuts—enacted the last time they held the government hostage—that force a regime of automatic, across-the-board spending cuts in all federal agencies at the beginning of each fiscal year.

The same goes for many in the United States who rely on vital government services. Domestic violence is already a major cause of homelessness nationally. If the sequester is not addressed this week, 2014 could be far worse for many Americans, especially low-income DV survivors.

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