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Another Kind of 'Fiscal Cliff' for Domestic Violence Shelters

The Wheeling YWCA operates the Madden House shelter. They can be reached at 1-800-698-1247 or 304-232-2748. The national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.
The Wheeling YWCA operates the Madden House shelter. They can be reached at 1-800-698-1247 or 304-232-2748. The national domestic violence hotline is 1-800-799-SAFE.
December 10, 2012

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It isn't part of the big budget negotiations, but people working with battered women are worried that the partisan divide in Congress could also threaten vital shelter programs. Much of the funding for domestic violence shelters comes through the Violence Against Women Act. But Congressional infighting means that law could expire, even though both sides say they don't want it to happen.

Patricia Flanigan, who directs the YWCA Family Violence Prevention Program in Wheeling, says they might lay off staff, and thus maybe undermine life-or-death services, if the law is not reauthorized.

"We have worked so hard throughout thirty-plus years. We're looking at actually moving backwards again, and it's very frustrating."

A bipartisan version of the Violence Against Women Act passed the Senate, but the Republican-controlled House is blocking specific protections for immigrants, same-sex domestic violence victims and victims on tribal lands.

Most domestic violence shelters survive with little money to spare. Flanigan says the majority of their funding comes through Department of Justice grants authorized in the Violence Against Women Act, known by the acronym VAWA. She says it's shoestring funding, but it's a lifeline for a battered woman.

"We go from limited funds as it is, and I would hate to imagine what could come if reauthorization of VAWA is not pushed through."

VAWA has repeatedly been reauthorized with bipartisan support over the years. But this time, reports from Washington describe last-minute negotiations with a real chance of failure. Flanigan says letting the law expire would affect a lot of people, because domestic violence is far more widespread than many realize.

"It affects everybody on one level or another, whether it's their children or grandchildren or their friends who know someone who's suffering from it."

West Virginia's Republican members of Congress - David McKinley and Shelley Moore Capito - have opposed the bipartisan Senate Bill.

The national domestic violence hotline number is 1-800-799-SAFE.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV