By Dubuque Telegraph Herald
For those of us (including this newspaper) who have lamented excessive government spending, the Iowa attorney general’s decision to cut domestic violence services puts those beliefs to the test.
This is what reduced government spending can look like: Programs eliminated, agencies closed, salaries cut. If we want our government to spend less, then communities will have to figure out how to make up for programming losses. Contrary to what some talking heads say, all government programs are not bloated, overextended and unnecessary. Some of them are good programs that really help real people.
Consider the 500 people per year who turn to the Dubuque Community Y’s domestic violence program for help getting out of an abusive relationship. The women who seek these services are usually desperate and have nowhere else to turn. Providing a safe refuge for victims is one of the positive things that come from government-funded programming.
But with significant cuts at the federal and state level, there just aren’t enough dollars in the system to continue to offer victims services in the same way. The Crime Victims Assistance Division of the Attorney General’s Office has divided the state into six regions and will direct funding to only one or two domestic violence service programs and the same number of sexual assault service programs and emergency shelters in each region. Other programs and shelters will no longer be funded.
The impact of that could have been that victims of domestic violence in Dubuque would have to travel 100 miles to Waverly for assistance. That will likely be the nearest government-funded shelter. But the Dubuque Community Y has vowed to continue to carry on — even without government support.
That’s a courageous stand.
The president of the Y shelter’s board of directors believes if the shelter weren’t here to serve women, many victims would return to their abusers.
That stark reality is enough for the Dubuque Community Y to continue to forge on without the benefit of state funding and to keep its safehouse open. It should be a comfort to know that this important resource will remain in our community, particularly through this transition. The Y shelter will need local support now more than ever.
In the wake of shrinking federal and state budgets, the regionalization model is worth trying. It will not be without growing pains.
For Riverview Center, for example, which has provided comprehensive services to the victims of sexual assault in Iowa and Illinois for two decades, it will mean serving many more clients without compensation commensurate with that increase. There’s a good chance Riverview Center will be tapped to provide sexual assault service and advocacy to a newly formed 15-county region.
Now the agency receives $134,000 from state and federal grants to serve three Iowa counties. Under regionalization, the agency would receive $422,000 to serve 15 counties with more urban centers.
Consolidation of duplicated services is something that government should explore to try to create more efficient programming. In areas such as these, where the clients are among the most vulnerable people in our communities, we must take care to create a safety net so that these individuals don’t fall through the cracks. That will mean supporting and listening to the agencies at the core of the issue to ensure that needs are still being met.
With or without tax dollars, domestic violence and sexual assault services must be seamlessly provided in our community.