An impassioned call to support the YWCA's Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Resource Center and Transitional Housing Program resounded from the Clinton YWCA on Monday as local, state and federal officials along with victims, YWCA employees and others gathered to defend the programs from service-threatening budget cuts.
“We provide services to thousands of community members... Last year alone, our program provided safe shelter to over 200 women and children and turned away hundreds of people because we were at full capacity,” Victims Services Director for the Clinton YWCA Ronelle Clark said.
U.S. Rep Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, was one of the officials to attend the meeting. He listened as Clark, YWCA Executive Director Lori Freudenburg, County Attorney Mike Wolf, Clinton Police Chief Brian Guy, Clinton School District Superintendent Deb Olson and victims shared their thoughts on why the services are critical to the Clinton area.
The Clinton YWCA offers a 24-hour crisis line, free options counseling to people coping with domestic violence, sexual abuse, or homelessness, emergency shelter to those affected by domestic violence or sexual abuse, prevention programs and transitional housing as well as other victim services.
Due to budget cuts, the Iowa Crime Victim Assistance Division has devised a strategic reorganization plan that would divide the state into six regions. CVAD proposed for each region, there be one comprehensive domestic violence program, one comprehensive sexual abuse program and one comprehensive shelter. This means there would be no more than three domestic violence shelters in each of the six regions, with preference being given to universities.
The plan was conceived after Attorney General Tom Miller decided not to issue the $1.1 million he has issued for many years in fiscal year 2013-2014.
The Clinton YWCA currently serves more than 650 victims through court advocacy, medical advocacy, counseling and shelter. The regionalization will severely limit the amount of services that could be provided. Freudenburg estimates a projected loss of $256,000 in CVAD funding.
If the regionalization plan goes forward, the YWCA of Clinton will close the Jackson County facility in June 2013.
“What we have in Clinton, is something that works,” Wolf said. “It’s all about support...they’re not too far away from where their jobs are, their transportation needs are here locally, their childcare is here locally, their schools....If it’s going to a regional system we won’t be able to take care of those things as easily.”
Other speakers stressed the importance of keeping services in Clinton instead of forcing victims to travel to Iowa City or the Quad-Cities for service.
“We have a plea for more funding...to keep our organization open to people who need our services the most,” Freudenburg said.
Donna Wiik, who was helped by counselors at the Clinton YWCA after she was the victim of abuse, shared her story and urged to maintain services at the facility.
“Women finally have a voice, but now that voice may be cut off,” Wiik said.
Loebsack was urged to work diligently to increase the funding cap for crime victim funds through the Victims of Crime Act from $700 million to $1 billion in order to meet the needs of crime victim support programs and reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act to provide support as well.
“We all know we have to balance the budget in Washington, D.C, we have to balance the budget in Iowa and we have to be accountable to the taxpayers...but we have to do it the right way. That’s where this program, these issues get me,” Loebsack said. “At a minimum we have to be sure we don’t cut back on programs that serve so many people.”
Beyond the moving emotional stories of the victims who use the threatened services, Loebsack stressed the need to address what practical effects the cuts would have on the area.
“We need to think rationally about what cuts to programs like this mean. We can talk about incarceration rates if we cut back on programs like this. That’s going to cost taxpayers. We can talk about reproducing the behavior of one generation in future generations and the problems that’s going to bring,” he said.
Ultimately, he pledged support for the programs.
“I’m going to continue to talk about these issues. I’m going to fight for these programs and do what I can to make sure they’re not slashed,” Loebsack said.