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Area crisis services fear loss of federal dollars

Updated: February 5, 2013 6:25AM

ELGIN — When the book closed Tuesday on the 112th U.S. Congress, it did so without the reauthorization of the 1994 Violence Against Women Act.

That act authorized funding for programs that include those offered by Kane County domestic violence shelters. Representatives from both Mutual Ground in Aurora and the Community Crisis Center in Elgin said the loss of that funding could mean deep cuts for the agencies.

For Mutual Ground in Aurora, the Violence Against Women Act provides for $115,000 in federal grants each year.

At Elgin’s Community Crisis Center, the act and grants it creates bring in about $80,000 annually for services — mostly in the way of paying for salaries for legal aid and counseling programs, said Executive Director Gretchen Vapnar.

Throughout Illinois, the act funds $657,273 toward shelters via the Illinois Criminal Justice Information Authority.

“This amount does not take into account all of the money that Illinois receives from VAWA, just how much is going directly to shelters from the Authority,” said Brandon Jones, director of policy at the Illinois Coalition for Domestic Violence.

“Missing from this amount are some direct grantees, legal assistance organizations,” and more, Jones said.

The act expired nearly two years ago and has not yet been reapproved, even with versions passed by both the House and the Senate.

“We are fairly disappointed with what happened on the House floor,” Jones said.

House Majority leader Eric Cantor “has no interest in helping this bill move forward,” Jones said, due to parts of the Senate version that include provisions for Native American victims living on tribal lands and reservations. The provision allows tribal authorities to prosecute sexual assault and domestic violence on tribal lands, whether the perpetrator is a tribe member or not. Virginia, which Cantor represents, has no tribal lands, Jones said.

March deadline

Kane County’s domestic and sexual assault intervention programs funded by the act — and all programs funded by the act in Illinois — will retain that funding until at least March, Jones said. However, if VAWA is not reauthorized by then, many programs will feel the effects, he said.

The money Mutual Ground gets from VAWA includes $88,000 a year “for staff who work directly with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault,” said Director Michelle Meyer.

Another $30,000 in grants is used for transitional housing supports — helping battered women with rent costs for six months after leaving an abuser, Meyer said.

“We are looking at $115,000 we would be losing a year,” Meyer said. “That would impact the victims coming to get services and the kids that we are seeing in the school ... to stop the intergenerational violence.”

Vapnar, at Elgin’s Community Crisis Center, said there is much misunderstanding of the Senate’s version of the act, which includes language for protecting undocumented immigrants and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender victims as well.

“The people we are trying to serve are victims, regardless of ethnicity and circumstances,” Vapnar said. “What we are trying to do is save lives.”

The House has passed a version of the reauthorization bill that strips out those additional categories, Jones said. The Senate version is preferred by the Illinois Coalition for Domestic Violence, he said.

Whether the Senate version or the House version of the bill is finally approved won’t change who is served by the programs, Jones, Vapnar and Meyer agreed.

“We help everyone, and we are able to service both genders,” Jones said.

However, what they have seen is that when male victims of domestic violence — either in same-sex or heterosexual relationships — go to police for intervention, they are shamed.

“When it comes to our programs, no, we are not going to turn someone away based on gender,” Jones said.

There is hope that the reauthorization bill will be brought to a vote early on in the 113th Congress, Jones said.

“We will have to work harder to help the House pass a bill,” Jones said.

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