116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
The reality of big cuts to victim services in Iowa is sinking in for agencies that support those impacted by domestic violence and sexual assault - with directors scrambling to save jobs and leave intact direct services by, in some cases, closing offices and cutting other corners.
Although the state's service providers don't yet know specifically how much they'll be forced to trim, many are measuring the total percentage cuts against their budgets and doing the math.
'All in, we're probably talking as much as $100,000,” said Kristie Fortmann-Doser, executive director of the Domestic Violence Intervention Program based in Iowa City. 'It means that we are closing many of our offices.”
Program officials are planning to shutter three of the agency's five offices, leaving open its Iowa City location and some free space in Burlington while closing offices in Mount Pleasant, Keokuk and Burlington. The agency and its mobile staffers will continue serving clients throughout its eight-county region, but the job will be more challenging, as cuts could mean fewer resources for victims seeking shelter, supplies for those tossed into unforeseen emergencies and social support for victims in the midst of traumatic domestic situations.
'We're going to cut every expense we can come up with, and we are doing some additional fundraising this year in order to accommodate these losses,” Fortmann-Doser said.
Some agencies already have stepped up - like ACT Inc. in Iowa City, which earlier this week dropped off boxes of blankets, backpacks, toys and household supplies in light of the expected cuts. Fortmann-Doser said those gifts are imperative to her organization's operations right now, when any losses are hurled 'on the backs of staff and on the backs of the individuals we serve.”
The recent funding reductions include both state and federal losses. For Iowa's part, lawmakers in the most recent legislative session approved a 26-percent cut to the victim service program appropriation - amounting to $1.7 million less, according to Janelle Melohn, director of the Crime Victim Assistance Division within the Iowa Attorney General's Office.
Facing a budget shortfall, Melohn said, Iowa lawmakers wrongly assumed a previous bump in federal support could cushion the blow from their reductions.
'I worked hard to explain this wasn't the case for a variety of reasons,” she said. 'The most obvious being these funds had already been fully allocated.”
Compounding the state losses, Iowa officials recently learned Congress is decreasing its Victims of Crime Act funds administered by the Federal Office for Victims of Crime - resulting in a 17.2 percent decrease to Iowa's award, or about $4 million. That means the Crime Victim Assistance Division must cut $5.7 million from its annual awards to the victim service support programs it oversees.
The division used some previously unallocated federal funds to help offset the cuts - leaving an estimated $2.8 million to $3 million to trim. It decided against across-the-board cuts, as that would disproportionally burden some agencies and services.
'When we ran the numbers, the programs hit the hardest would be Iowa's nine remaining (domestic violence) shelters,” Melohn said, adding conservative estimates indicated losses of nearly 26 full-time equivalent positions in domestic violence, sexual assault, shelter and hotline programs.
'This would decimate their ability to serve in our current model and to fully reach their populations,” she said. 'Instead, we decided to literally look at every line item in program budgets.”
Those efforts found $1.2 million in savings. The rest came in the form of staff and services cuts, including merging two state sexual abuse victim hotlines and defunding the separate Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline, operated out of the University of Iowa-based Rape Victim Advocacy Program.
In a social media post requesting support and donations, program officials said cutting funding for the hotline 'will set victim services in Iowa back in profound ways.”
'The timing of this decision to defund (the Iowa Sexual Abuse Hotline) is incredibly troubling,” according to the post, noting the hotline in the past two years has seen a 647 percent call volume increase and projects to receive 4,000 calls this fiscal year.
'Historically, when victim services are combined into one program, survivors of sexual violence are the ones who become underserved.”
The Attorney General's Office had planned to use $1 million on upgrades to its IowaVINE statewide victim notification system - adding court notifications, creating a victim hub of service providers and overhauling the 'archaic platform on which the system is built.”
It's ditched those plans for now, although Melohn said she hopes they'll revisit them in the future.
'With the cuts, we could not justify carrying out the project,” she said.
The state division expects to notify individual service agencies of their specific cuts in three to four weeks. But net losses will amount to 10 full-time equivalent and 19 part-time equivalent positions, according to Melohn.
'The reality is, funding cuts have consequences and tough decisions had to be made,” she said. 'No one wants to be in this position and we hope the state legislature will understand the need for adequate funding for these services in future years.”
If it doesn't, and state and federal funding remains the same in the 2019 budget year, Melohn said her division will have to find another $1 million in cuts.
Lindsay Pingel, director of community engagement for the Iowa Coalition of Domestic Violence that supports Iowa's domestic violence victim support programs, said these reductions are 'going to change the entire landscape of how our programs do services.”
'It will take advocates and first responders out of communities that law enforcement depend on when they are called to the scene of a domestic incident,” Pingel said. 'It will remove people from the chat lines and the sexual assault hotline. Those are resources that individuals need.”
With Iowa City's Domestic Violence Intervention Program on track to serve 2,100 adults and children this year - above its average - director Fortmann-Doser said she's focused on retaining her 30 employees but said furloughs and pay cuts are not out of the question.
Neither are layoffs.
'I can't take that off the table,” she said. 'But that's what we're trying to avoid at this point. And if we're successful with our fundraising, we won't have to.”