SHREVEPORT, LA (KSLA) - In the wake of the partial government shutdown, dozens of programs across Louisiana, meant to help survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, face an uncertain future. That’s because Congress failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act, or VAWA, and its funding before the government shutdown last month.
Enacted by Congress in 1994, the law provides legal protection to victims of domestic violence, as well as grants that help break the cycle of sexual assault and violence. But when Congress failed to pass a budget and parts of the government shutdown on December 22, funding sources for many of the social services and programs supporting survivors of domestic violence in the Pelican State were temporarily shuttered as well.
“A lot of the domestic violence services offered in Louisiana are very reliant on federal funding that originates out of the Department of Justice,” said Mariah Stidham Wineski, Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
With the shutdown furloughing staffers at the U.S. Department of Justice, there are no federal employees working who can issue checks for money already allocated under VAWA.
“So, with the DOJ closed, programs are not able to access existing grant money and pay for services already rendered,” Wineski said.
And according to Wineski, day by day organizations helping survivors of domestic violence will find it more to continue operating, the longer the shutdown continues.
“Right now, all domestic violence programs in our state are open providing full services,” Wineski said. “But eventually these organizations may have to make decisions regarding staffing and changing the services currently offered.”
Across Louisiana, these organizations operate the domestic abuse hotline, provide shelter and temporary housing, offer services for children, support legal aid, and render other lifesaving services to a vulnerable population of women in need.
“Currently here in Louisiana there are 15 shelters for women that face funding concerns related to the shutdown,” said Wineski, “including a shelter operated by Project Celebration in Shreveport, whose overall services are so vital to the Northwest part of the state.”
Wineski and other domestic violence advocates expect that the new Congress eventually reauthorize the VAWA, hopefully strengthening the law which affords survivors of domestic abuse and sexual assault legal protection. Experts also believe when a spending bill is finally passed, VAWA appropriations will be included.
Wineski says the shutdown, if prolonged, poses a serious threat to the network of support survivors of domestic support desperately need in Louisiana.
“It is the most urgent priority, keeping programs open that are funded by VAWA,” she said.
“But we will not stop providing lifesaving services under any circumstances. The people in this state that work for our programs and those who volunteer their time are committed to keeping that support in place. But it will become more difficult,” Wineski said. “The government shutdown is significant threat to domestic violence services.”