California budget leaves victims of domestic violence behind

By Karen A. Ferguson

Domestic violence and intimate partner abuse is often insidious, and sometimes the need for help arises suddenly and urgently, catching victims and their loved ones off guard. So, I want to imagine, what if …

What if your adult daughter is in a relationship with a partner who is stalking, threatening and controlling her?

What if your dear friend says his partner is becoming more and more demanding, seems to never be satisfied, is always angry and is no longer the romantic person he was?

What if your neighbor knocks on your door to borrow something, and you see bruises around her upper arm?

And what if this is you? You’re married with children, but always walking on eggshells. Worried every day that he will walk in the door and beat you again — constantly hoping today is not that day.

What if you want to reach out for help, but help is not there?

The truth is that no one considers how vital free domestic violence services are until you need them or walks around thinking about how great it is to have domestic violence services available. This lifeline of services that we think about only when the situation is pressing in on us — this lifeline is in peril.

For San Mateo County, Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse, is the single provider of comprehensive services for domestic violence survivors spanning from 24-hour hotline support and emergency shelter, to legal and mental health services and long-term rental assistance programming. All this is provided free of charge to survivors thanks to federal funding and community support.

Domestic violence services are in jeopardy right now because more than 70% of the funding for local organizations comes from the federal budget revenue stream entitled the Victims of Crime Act. This fund has been diminishing over time and what will amount to cuts in the funding are slated to begin July 2024. All told this will reduce CORA’s capacity to provide life-saving services by up to 45%. This is a devastating loss.

CORA will face the choice between decreasing the number of emergency safe house stays, mental health sessions, legal support, or school and community education programming, as well as reducing the staffing that keeps the organization running effectively. Ultimately, those in need will have less. That means you, your friend and your family members will not have the range of free and confidential support required, if that terrible need arises. In my world, this isn’t OK. Safety nets need to be woven of strong rope.

Help us weather these cuts. This is how you can help:

Call your California Assemblymembers and state senators and urge them to take action to prevent the devastating VOCA cuts. Tell them you support the state budget request letter to fill this gap in funding, needed immediately. Additionally, you can support two bills that would address the sustainability of future support. Assembly Bill 1956, sponsored by Assemblymember Eloise Gómez Reyes, D-San Bernardino, would ensure these gaps don’t happen again by requiring state and federal funding stability for survivors of domestic violence. Assembly Bill 2432 by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel, D-Encino, will establish a new fund, from crime penalty dollars, that will provide the funds. Reach out to elected officials in California to let them know that free emergency services provided by the only domestic violence agency in your county, CORA, depend on their support. Find your California representatives at https://www.assembly.ca.gov/assemblymembers and https://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov.

Karen A. Ferguson, Ph.D, is CEO at CORA, Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse.

This article was originally published in the San Mateo Daily Journal.