By Dana Carlson
Capital News Service
RICHMOND — The 53 sexual and domestic-violence organizations in Virginia could serve victims better if a House of Delegates Appropriations committee acts on a bill to streamline the funding these organizations rely on.
House Bill 1, the first piece of legislation filed in the 2014 General Assembly session, would consolidate numerous sexual and domestic anti-violence funding streams and grant programs in a sub-fund of the Criminal Injuries and Compensation Fund.
By consolidating the current numerous funding streams and grant programs, administrative costs would be reduced because sexual assault and domestic violence agencies would not have to petition to multiple state agencies that now provide such funding, said Sheree Kedrick, executive director of Hanover Safe Place.
“One of the goals of streamlining funding is to lift the burden of applying for four to seven grants down to one,” Kedrick said. “So, more time can be spent on community engagement.”
HB1 originated during Sexual Assault Awareness Month in October 2013, when the Virginia Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Action Alliance brought budgeting and funding concerns to the attention of Delegate Chris Peace, R-Hanover. In response, chief co-patron Peace helped draft HB1 to put more time and resources toward the needs of sexual assault and domestic violence victims by improving the funding structure.
“There’s been talk of a ‘war on women,’ but there’s no clearer war in the community than sexual assault and domestic violence,” Peace said.
The Criminal Injuries Compensation Fund was created in 1977 by the Virginia General Assembly to pay unreimbursed expenses of victims who suffer personal physical or emotional injury. The fund is supported by court fees, offender assessments, restitution and a federal Victim of Crime Act Grant, which supplements monies available to victims of violent crime.
While Kedrick said some smaller organizations, unfamiliar with the CICF, are skeptical of consolidating their resources, everyone is open to streamlining funding.
“In a time where we are losing funding, collaboration can help us enhance our services,” Kedrick said.
Peace says while the services available to women and other victims of sexual assault and domestic violence have increased over the years, incidents of sexual and domestic violence have not decreased. The limited supply of resources available to Virginia victims cannot meet the demand for services.
A National Network to End Domestic Violence 2012 census found 1,374 Virginia victims were served on an average day, while 146 requests were not addressed. Unmet requests included victims being turned down for services such as emergency shelter, legal representation, transitional housing and hospital accompaniment.
According to the census, Virginia sexual and domestic violence prevention organizations cited underfunding as the primary reason why all assistance requests could not be met.
Kristi Van Audenhove, executive director of the action alliance, stated in a press release the current funding structure is burdensome and does not lend itself to the best utilization of resources.
In addition to the proposed funding consolidation, Peace proposed an amendment to the House budget bill to allocate $10.6 million in the first fiscal year and $18 million in the second fiscal year.
The funds would help sexual and domestic violence organizations expand their services to eliminate the problem of unmet requests for help, stated alliance lobbyist Aimee Perron Seibert.
The final amount of $18 million, which is the gap in funding identified to sustain the population in need of services, would help cement the longevity of these programs, Seibert stated.
The funds will provide for 24-hour crisis service centers, court advocacy programs, hospital accompaniment services, prevention outreach and more, Peace said.
The bill is still awaiting a hearing in the House Appropriations committee. Peace said he sees no reason why members of both parties wouldn’t support the bill.
“We certainly expect some budget negotiations to occur as the two sides work out what is possible during this budget cycle,” Seibert stated. “We are grateful that both the House and the Senate recognize the great need that exists.”