Julie Rojas estimates she and the 11 other nurses at St. Anthony Hospital trained to perform sexual-assault examinations completed more than 500 of the intense procedures in 2018.
The Lakewood hospital has seen an increase in the number of exams done each year and has relied on federal funding under the Violence Against Women Act since 2010 to help pay for training, equipment and staff hours for the exams, which are often used as evidence in criminal investigations, Rojas said.
But as the shutdown of the federal government nears the end of its second week, Rojas and others in Colorado who use the law’s money in their work with victims of domestic violence and sexual assault worry about what they will do if the shutdown continues past the current deadline set for funding.
“We rely on that money to keep going,” Rojas said. “The hospital’s not going to let the program die. We’ll just look for resources somewhere else.”
In 2018, the federal act provided more than $7.3 million to Colorado district attorney’s offices, hospitals, police departments and nonprofit service providers for programs related to domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking. The money pays for training, partial salaries of sexual-assault nurses, victim services and criminal prosecution programs.
The programs that use the money will have access to their accounts through Feb. 8 as long as the federal Office on Violence Against Women remains open and fully staffed, but will no longer be able to do so after that if Congress does not act.
“That’s when you might see doors closing or services diminish,” said Ruth Glenn, president and CEO of the Denver-based National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
But anxiety already has set in among Colorado organizations that rely on the funds to pay salaries and keep the lights on. The programs pay for expenses out of pocket and later request reimbursement from the federal office.
Staff at the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault requested money from their grant fund just before the government closed on Dec. 21 in preparation, executive director Brie Franklin said. The coalition, like many nonprofit organizations that work in domestic-violence and sexual-assault prevention, does not have a ton of money saved in the bank, she said.
The coalition uses the money to pay its own staff and for programming.
“We’re not panicking at this point,” Franklin said. “In another week or two, if it seems like people can’t come to an agreement, then people might start panicking.”
During the 16-day shutdown in 2013, some Colorado domestic-violence programs had to furlough workers because they couldn’t access their Violence Against Women Act funding, said Lydia Waligorski, public policy director at Violence Free Colorado, the state domestic-violence coalition.
“VAWA is one way domestic-violence programs keep the lights on and keep the doors open,” she said.
The effects of the shutdown are further complicated by the Dec. 21 expiration of the Violence Against Women Act, which provides funding as well as legal protections for victims. The act previously expired in 2011 and wasn’t fully reauthorized until 2013.
Congress passed the act in 1994 and created the federal Office on Violence Against Women in the Department of Justice. But lawmakers this year failed to pass a long-term solution when the law was up for its five-year reauthorization in September. Instead, lawmakers passed two stop-gap measures that kept funding available through Dec. 21, but the act expired at midnight that day.
But the protections created by the law remain in place, Waligorksi said, and money can still be awarded through the program once a federal budget is passed.
“The government shutdown, not the lapse in authorization, is the most significant threat to continued VAWA funds,” she said.
But the combination of the the two events has created an atmosphere of uncertainty for the organizations and agencies that provide services.
“That doesn’t mean that the anxiety that the providers have isn’t real,” Glenn said. “It’s kind of like the perfect storm.”
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