DES MOINES — Three statewide programs that provide assistance to victims of sexual abuse are being eliminated or severely cut because of recent reductions in state and federal funding, and many more regional organizations are scrambling to limit the impact of reduced funding.
Advocates fear the program cuts will leave victims of sexual abuse without critical assistance.
“It’s a huge concern to us because every program that’s losing its funding is serving an active client base,” said Kerri True-Funk, associate director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The Iowa Legislature this year approved a 22.4 percent decrease in state funding to victim assistance grants, or $1.5 million, which help fund many programs across the state.
The state budget increased by just more than one-tenth of 1 percent for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and many departments were forced to reduce their spending.
Federal funding also is coming in light. Program leaders said they have learned Congress plans to reduce funding by 17 percent to Iowa, or $4 million.
That leaves the Crime Victim Assistance Division within the Iowa Attorney General’s Office, which disperses the victim assistance grants, with $5.5 million less to work with for the coming fiscal year.
Instead of making across-the-board cuts, the division opted to look for savings and reductions on each line of the grant program’s budget.
Three statewide programs lost all their state funding for the coming fiscal year:
Sexual abuse hotline
The Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline provides 24-hour phone support for victims of sexual violence. Hosted by the University of Iowa’s Rape Victim Advocacy Program since 1999, the hotline will be defunded at the end of September.
The hotline is on pace to receive more than 4,000 calls in the past year.
“That’s a resource that we refer victims to all the time,” said Kristie Fortmann-Doser, executive director of the Iowa Domestic Violence Intervention Program, which serves eight counties in southeast Iowa. “It’s a support network that victims rely on.”
The Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline is to merge with the Iowa Domestic Violence Helpline, which is based in Sioux Center. Although it makes the best of the situation, the plan concerns advocates.
“The reason that is a concern is that the needs of sexual assault survivors and victims vs. domestic violence typically are different,” said Lindsay Pingel, with the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence. "So not having that resource with trained individuals who specifically work with advocates for sexual assault victims is concerning."
True-Funk expressed concern for the increased call load to the domestic violence hotline without additional resources.
“Four thousand is a lot of calls to take without the (additional) funding to do that,” she said. “They will be asked to take on additional duties at a point in time where they’re trying to keep their operations running smoothly as well.”
The Iowa Affirmation and Resources Chat, or Iowa ARCh, is an online chat program for survivors of sexual violence, abuse and stalking. The program is geared toward younger people who are more comfortable communicating in an online or texting format.
Pingel said the program is the first of its kind in the nation and can be helpful for non-English speakers. It was established more recently, in July 2015, and will lose all of its state funding at the end of the month.
Transformative Healing provides assistance for sexual violence victims who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The program helped more than 100 people over a recent 12-month span, according to Executive Director Kimberly Andresen-Reed.
The program loses all of its state funding at the end of the month. Andresen-Reed said staff is exploring ways to operate “at a more limited capacity” and looking for new, more sustainable funding streams.
“All this stuff was in the works. (The funding cuts) just created a lot of urgency to do it now, because it’s our survival at this point,” Andresen-Reed said. “There are very few programs that serve specifically LGBTQ survivors of sexual violence and domestic violence. That was something that really set the state apart. ... Potentially not having those services anymore is really setting the state back.”
The victim assistance grants received $6.7 million in state funding for three consecutive years prior to this year’s reduction, according to state records. Before that, the grants received four consecutive years of $3 million.
The state and federal funding reductions — in particular the elimination of all state funding — has left the three programs scrambling.
“All three programs are trying to figure out what they’re going to do moving forward,” True-Funk said. “They’re all trying to figure out how to do some operations, but it’s definitely not going to be on the level that they were previously operating at.”
And it’s not just those three. Programs across the state are seeing fewer dollars coming in this year.
Budget cuts have forced the Domestic Violence Intervention Program to close two of its four offices, in Burlington and Keokuk.
Pingel said the decreased funding comes at a time when her organization has never been busier. She said the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, a nonprofit collection of 25 programs across the state, has served 45,000 people in the past year. She said the number of people served by the coalition increased 66 percent from fiscal year 2013 to 2016.
“The results speak for themselves. People are utilizing our services. They are reaching out to advocates,” Pingel said. “So it’s very disheartening that they are taking away ... that funding. That will directly impact the number of survivors we are able to serve.”
Some state legislators, during debate over the state funding cuts, said they thought a recent increase in federal funding would help offset the loss in state funds. But program leaders said that was not the case, and they told legislators as much.
“Our lobbying team worked extremely hard with legislators to talk about that, and unfortunately, the confusion is still out there,” Pingel said. “They hoped with a state cut that the federal money could sustain us or we had all this federal money laying around. And that simply wasn’t true.”
With the funding cuts about to take effect, leaders said the programs face an uncertain future.
“We’ve dealt with cuts before. However, this environment is a little bit different,” Pingel said. “I don’t think we can necessarily say or project what’s going to happen.”