In April State Representative Ken Rizer visited Waypoint Services, a Cedar Rapids shelter that helps women suffering from domestic violence and other crisis situations. Just a few weeks later, he voted for a budget that slashed funding for the very services the women he met depend upon.
As the Iowa Legislature’s 2015 session slogs on well past its scheduled end date, several important programs have unexpectedly come under the chopping block. On May 5th, Marion’s Rizer, along with most of the Republican House caucus, approved a Justice Department budget that included a 15% funding cut over last year to programs serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. The cut is nearly three times larger than any other in the Justice budget and second in size only to the 17% cut to legal services for the poor.
The funding cuts are already a major concern for Waypoint, which serves women in Linn County and beyond. A recent report from KCRG highlighted how local victims of domestic violence might have fewer options for help if Rizer’s cuts become law:
That would affect programs like Waypoint Services in Cedar Rapids. Workers there say if the million dollar cut is approved, they’d be forced to fire some staff members. And they say that would mean less help for the victims who need it.
“We’d probably have to cut three or four people. And take it down to the people needing help, it’s not going to be there as easily as it is now,” said Jaye Kennedy, the chief executive officer of Waypoint Services.
The Senate followed Governor Branstad’s lead in funding victim service programs at last year’s levels. Last year Iowa programs served 15% more victims of domestic abuse and 24% more victims of sexual assault. Oddly, the successful increase in services provided appears to have been rewarded with a corresponding cut.
The $1 million cut to victim services reportedly currently supports about 34 trained victim advocates statewide. Without them, it’s estimated 4,559 fewer victims will be served and 711 fewer victims will be in stable housing.
Two days after the funding vote, television cameras covered the Governor, surrounded by a bi-partisan group of legislators, signing a bill to establish the Safe at Home address confidentiality program for survivors of intimate partner violence. The proposal has been widely praised, as supporters say it complements successful efforts by victim service programs to prioritize permanent housing solutions.
While getting that program enacted certainly deserves attention, the votes of Ken Rizer and others to slash domestic violence funding stands starkly at odds with their public rhetoric. The State of Iowa has a budget surplus this year of over $400 million, and Rizer serves as the Vice Chair of Appropriations. Yet the Iowa House has come in with a budget about $166 million less than Governor Branstad’s proposal.
In a recent letter-to-the-editor, Rizer argued against a higher budget, saying, “House Republicans will not appropriate more than we take in ($7.175 billion) and will not spend the ending balance on ongoing expenses. These are red lines.”
There is also, of course, a matter of priorities. When $1 million in less funds can have a very negative effect on Marion’s most vulnerable, it raises the question to why it’s being cut when the Republican Governor is suggesting $166 million more in overall state funding and there’s about $420 million in budget surplus.
by Pat Rynard