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How the Government Shutdown Endangers Survivors

Casa Myrna Remains Open As Usual, But Federal Government Shutdown Endangers DV Survivors

The longer the shutdown continues, the weaker the safety net for survivors becomes, says Casa Myrna CEO Stephanie Brown

Boston, MA – January 23, 2019 – As the federal government shutdown—already the longest in history—hit its one month milestone with no end in sight, domestic violence programs across the country have been facing mounting uncertainty. Many such programs rely on grants from federal agencies that have been reduced to performing only functions deemed essential during the shutdown.

Shutdown Disrupting Services at Some Domestic Violence Programs

Those “essential” functions don’t include disbursing the funds that ensure that domestic violence programs will be there for victims seeking safety and shelter. In particular, the Department of Justice, which administers grants to programs funded through the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA), may stop distributing funds until the shutdown ends.

As a result, many programs—especially those in rural areas or that focus on specific groups of vulnerable survivors, such as Native Americans and seniors—are facing the devastating prospect of laying off staff and shutting down core services like hotlines and shelters.

As National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) vice-president Cindy Southworth put it, “If the lifesaving domestic violence frontline advocates are laid off and our hotlines go dark, lives are on the line.” To keep shelters and hotlines open, some programs have already been forced to cut back or halt peripheral services, such as counselling, mobile outreach, and financial support for housing, food, medical care, and transportation, that provide stability and support as survivors recover.

Casa Myrna to Continue Operating Normally

Casa Myrna is very fortunate to be a large organization with diverse funding streams, including grants from federal and state government, private and corporate foundations, and individual donors. Therefore, the federal government shutdown will not affect our staff or programs directly, and our work will continue as usual without any cutbacks.

If the staff who manage our federal grant programs are furloughed in the coming weeks, Casa Myrna will not be reimbursed for expenses funded by these agencies until the shutdown is over. However, we have enough resources to manage the delay in payments and will rely on reserve cash or our line of credit to remain fully operational.

“When they leave, survivors are taking a leap of faith. They need to know there are strong social safety nets there to protect them and help them land on their feet.”

Survivors Need Strong, Reliable Social Safety Nets

Casa Myrna will continue to provide support and shelter to domestic violence survivors uninterrupted thanks to our supporters. Nevertheless, the shutdown directly affects the individuals and families we support. It requires great courage and determination to leave an abusive partner. Often victims must choose between staying with a dangerous partner and risking homelessness.

The need for safe housing and economic resources to maintain safe housing are two of the most pressing concerns among domestic violence survivors who are planning to or have recently left abusers. In fact, more than a third of survivors report becoming homeless immediately after separating from their partners.

Survivors of domestic violence are particularly vulnerable to poverty and homelessness due to the long-lasting effects of financial abuse, which occurs in 99% of domestic violence cases. Even after escaping, survivors are often left without savings, educational credentials, a consistent work history, or even bank accounts or credit cards. They are frequently burdened by poor credit scores (due to fraud by the abuser), medical and other debts, and injuries or disabilities that make it difficult to work.

As Casa Myrna CEO Stephanie Brown puts it, “When they leave, survivors are taking a leap of faith. They need to know there are strong social safety nets there to protect them and help them land on their feet. The longer this shutdown continues, the weaker the safety net becomes.”

Shutdown Puts Survivors, Others at Risk of Deprivation and Abuse

Nearly all survivors participating in Casa Myrna programs on an ongoing basis live at or below the federal poverty line. Our advocates help survivors navigate the complex web of public and private social assistance programs designed for people struggling with poverty and personal crisis.  For many, being approved to receive SNAP (food stamps) benefits and Section 8 housing vouchers is a major milestone, as it means they can move out of a residential shelter program and into their own home.

If the shutdown continues into February, SNAP benefits and USDA shipments to food banks will be reduced. The nearly 770,000 people in Massachusetts who rely on SNAP to pay for groceries will be left scrambling to fill the gap. Other nutrition programs poor families rely on—including WIC (which covers eight million new mothers, infants, and children under 5 years old) and the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations—haven’t received any federal funding since the shutdown began, and benefits may stop in the next couple of weeks.

“The stakes of losing Section 8, SNAP, or WIC benefits couldn’t be higher. Without them, some survivors will be forced to choose between going back to an abuser or entering another unsafe situation and becoming homeless.”

And if the shutdown continues into March, 350,000 people in Massachusetts—including many thousands of survivors—will no longer receive the federal support they need to cover rent. Meanwhile, the 8,000 federal employees in Massachusetts (of 800,000 nationwide) who have been furloughed or are working without pay are already struggling to support themselves and their families.

The loss or delay in earnings or benefit payments makes families vulnerable to entering a financial downward spiral as they fall behind on rent, mortgage payments, and other bills. That won’t just lead to further stress and anguish for these families: women living in poverty are twice as likely to experience domestic violence, and three out of four survivors report that they stayed with their abusers longer for economic reasons. “The stakes of losing Section 8, SNAP, or WIC benefits couldn’t be higher,” says Stephanie Brown. “Without these benefits, some survivors will be forced to choose between going back to an abuser or entering another unsafe situation and becoming homeless.”

As the federal government shutdown continues, the strain on the social safety net that keeps hundreds of thousands of Massachusetts residents safe, fed, and housed increases. The most vulnerable people, including survivors, are the most at risk of falling through its fraying edges.

Casa Myrna urges the President and Congress to end the federal shutdown now and to negotiate protections for immigrants once our government has reopened.

If you or someone you know is in need of help, call Casa Myrna’s SafeLink hotline to talk or to learn about resources in your community. We are available 24/7/365 at 1-877-785-2020.

We believe that every relationship should be safe and healthy. What do you believe?