March to Demand Full Domestic Violence Funding

by Cindy Hanford

The new National Domestic Violence Hotline is due to go into operation this month, with public service announcements expected to start airing on NBC. But without adequate federal funding for shelter space and services, abused women may make a phone call but find no available shelter.

"We must march in San Francisco April 14 to demand that survivors of domestic violence are not victims of political crossfire," said NOW Executive Vice President Kim Gandy, who heads NOW's government relations team.

Without passage of a final budget for 1996, $33.7 million in funding for these new programs promised in the 1994 Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) is being held hostage by the Newt Congress -- and so are the women who could be helped by them. Instead, our government is running under continuing resolutions that leave some of these crucial programs relying on the smallest, 1995 start-up-year funding levels.

Earlier this session, Congress drastically cut 1996 funding for VAWA programs that had been pledged only the year before. Due to our persistent grassroots lobbying efforts, much of the funding was restored. Until final bills pass, it is still in jeopardy.

Due to problems with other parts of a bill funding Justice Department programs, President Clinton vetoed a bill (HR 2076) that would have provided close to the full $175 million in 1996 funding for VAWA programs. The fact that both House and Senate agreed to VAWA funding is advantageous when the bill returns to Congress for further negotiations.

However, the bill would eliminate funding targeted in 1994 for judicial education that is sorely needed at both the state and federal levels. NOW activists have brought public attention to recent examples of this need:

Another 1994 promise HR 2076 breaks is funding for a study on campus assault. "We cannot tolerate this lack of funding at a time when campus officials are allowing star athletes to rape and assault women without fear of punishment," said NOW's Gandy, a former prosecutor.

For VAWA programs funded under the Health and Human Services department, the House bill (HR 2127) is $25.1 million short of full funding, with the companion bill yet to clear the Senate. While the House version provides funding for the national domestic violence hotline, it provides none of the Senate's $18.1 million in funding increases for battered women's shelters. Advocates estimate that funding would have helped 60,000 women.

As NOW activists continue to pressure their Congress members for full funding of VAWA programs, we are also fighting the proposed welfare reforms that would shred the safety net for women and children, forcing them to continue to live in violent homes with no route fo escape. (See "March to End the War on the Poor"). And since current welfare reform efforts aim specifically to exclude immigrant families from any public assistance, immigrant women would be trapped in violent homes.

It is already estimated that one-half of women in homeless shelters are fleeing domestic violence. (See "New Stats on Violence, Poverty."). If punitive welfare legislation passes, more women will have to choose between homelessness and living with violence.

In floor action on the otherwise horrible Senate welfare bill, Sens. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., championed their Family Violence Amendment, which would have relaxed work requirements for women on welfare who are also suffering family violence. "That important little amendment passed on a voice vote, but it was one of the first things ripped out of the final welfare bill by the House-Senate conferees," said Pat Reuss, an advocate with NOW LDEF.

Meanwhile, NOW and other advocates are discussing a new legislative package to address problems not covered by VAWA, and are supporting individual pieces of legislation. For example, the Victims of Abuse Insurance Protection Act (HR 2654), introduced by Rep. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., would ban discrimination against survivors of abuse in all lines of insurance.

At the April 14 Fight the Right March, NOW activists and allies in the battered women's movement will demand full funding for VAWA programs to support battered women and survivors of sexual assault. And we will fight against other budget cuts and harmful welfare legislation that raise even higher hurdles for women seeking to flee violence.

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