Utah domestic violence shelters seek more state funding to meet need during COVID-19

Service providers want $3.4 million to offset reductions in federal funding.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Volunteer Zachary Farr helps plant flags at Liberty Park in Salt Lake City, on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, to recognize the thousands of individuals in Utah who are impacted by domestic violence each year for the Stop the Violence Utah campaign. Facing cuts in federal funding, Utah's domestic violence service providers are asking the state Legislature for $3.4 million this session to meet increased needs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Utah’s domestic violence shelters are asking the Utah Legislature for more support, as they face significant cuts in federal funding that could affect their ability to respond to the increase in people needing help during the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is a matter of life and death for victims,” said Jill Anderson, executive director of CAPSA, a nonprofit domestic violence, sexual abuse and rape recovery center serving Cache County and the Bear Lake area. “And us being able to provide shelter and crisis intervention, long-term housing, trauma-informed therapy, it’s all critical to ensure the safety and well-being of our communities.”

Fourteen nonprofit domestic violence service providers and the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition are asking for $3.4 million this session to offset an expected 25% to 30% reduction, or $2 million, in federal money coming to the Beehive State.

The request, submitted by Rep. Dan Johnson, R-Logan, was heard Thursday by the Social Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which will make funding recommendations later in the session.

The Crime Victims Fund, established by The Victims of Crime Act of 1984, supports victim services throughout the country. Since VOCA offers grants through the fines and fees collected from federal convictions, not taxpayer dollars, the amount distributed to shelters through the Utah Office for Victims of Crime can fluctuate drastically from year to year.

Less money has been deposited into the fund in recent years, though, leading to fewer funds for service providers.

“This is a perfect storm,” said Abi Taylor, executive director of Seekhaven, which serves Grand and San Juan counties. “There happens to be a big budget cut in the midst of our services being demanded more than ever before.”

Early in the coronavirus pandemic, as people were instructed to stay home to curb the spread of the virus, Utah saw an uptick in domestic violence cases and calls to crisis lines.

“Over the last nine months, we saw the numbers go up and they’ve just kind of stayed at that higher level,” Anderson said.

That’s on top of increased demand that’s come with the rapidly growing population in Utah, she said. Plus, law enforcement has been referring more people to providers in recent years, because they have been trained to evaluate victims’ safety and needs through lethality assessment protocols.

That’s a “great thing” and is “crucial to supporting victims,” said Claire Mosby, prevention coordinator with the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition. It just also means more services are needed, she said.

The $3.4 million that shelters are requesting “is just a drop in the bucket” when considering the effects of reduced federal funding and these added factors, Anderson said. Their “true need probably is somewhere around $9 million to $10 million dollars,” she said, “but we recognize that the state has limited resources.”

The federal cuts could have drastic consequences on shelters across Utah, according to Brant Wadsworth, executive director of Canyon Creek Services, which provides domestic violence and sexual assault services in Iron, Beaver and Garfield counties.

Most of the organization’s budget comes through VOCA. And Canyon Creek Services is expected to lose $215,000 in the second half of 2021, or 12% of its total operating budget, with deeper cuts the following year.

“The most direct impact will be fewer services available to fewer survivors,” Wadsworth said. “That increases the danger for them, it increases long-term negative effects that they deal with because of their victimization, and it requires us to pare down what we can do for any individual survivor.”

Both Canyon Creek Services and Seekhaven have recently expanded their youth education and sexual violence prevention efforts, in part thanks to institutional support from VOCA grants.

Seekhaven is celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2021, and it is hoping to build a new facility in Moab. But that will become more difficult with the decline in VOCA funding.

CAPSA would also lose roughly $250,000, according to Anderson, which is “a devastating cut” that could affect their ability to have “highly-trained and qualified staff” providing services “around the clock.”

“When people call us for safety, we have to be able to respond,” she said.

Becky Jacobs and Zak Podmore are Report for America corps members who write about the status of women in Utah and conflict and change in San Juan County, respectively, for The Salt Lake Tribune. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep them writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by clicking here.