A coalition of organizations that serve them are taking their case directly to the State House

PROVIDENCE – A 40% cut in federal assistance to organizations including programs that serve victims of domestic violence has prompted a coalition of more than 30 organizations that offer a wide range of services to seek the General Assembly’s help in closing the projected $2-million shortfall.

Coalition members will make their case at a press conference and “Advocacy Day” in the State House Library from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday. The session is open to the public.

According to Vanessa Volz, executive director of Sojourner House, a coalition member, the funds are channeled to organizations from the federal Victims of Crime Act, or VOCA. Reductions have been made before and this time, she said, “it’s reached a critical point where we can only sustain so many cuts to our programs.

Vanessa Volz – Submitted photo

“At Sojourner House, for example, OCA helps to fund our emergency shelters and it helps to fund certain programs that are hard to find funding in other places. For example, VOCA funds an LGBTQ+ sexual assault program. It also funds a program for undocumented victims of abuse. It’s really hard to find other funders that will support that kind of work.

“So having these sustained cuts and then having an additional 40% cut next year, it’s going to make it really difficult to run these programs. And that’s just at Sojourner House.”

Among the coalitions members: Amos House, Blackstone Valley Advocacy Center,  Center for Southeast Asians,  Child and Family Services of Newport County, Community Care Alliance, Day One, Domestic Violence Resource Center of South County, Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island, East Bay Community Action Program, Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, House of Hope CDC, Interfaith Counseling Center, Lawrence A. Aubin Sr. Child Protection Center, Lucy’s Hearth, Progreso Latino, Providence Housing Authority, Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Sojourner House, Tri-County Community Action Agency,  Women’s Resource Center and Youth Pride, Inc.

According to a coalition press release, “42,145 individuals received VOCA-funded services in Rhode Island during the 2023 fiscal year,” which ends on June 30. “We issued an urgent letter to the General Assembly, calling for immediate emergency funding of $2 million in the state budget, and further action to counteract these federal cuts to VOCA.”

The coalition added: “Despite the strong support from our Rhode Island federal delegation, Congress failed to address the funding cuts.”

VOCA funds derive from criminal fines and other fees paid by people convicted of federal crimes, not from taxpayer sources. They thus vary year-by-year.

Volz said meetings with state legislative leaders have been requested but not yet scheduled.

“You can only sustain so many cuts to your programs,” Volz told Ocean State Stories. “You get a cut, and then maybe you have to lay a staff member off or maybe you don’t run your program 24 hours a day anymore. But, an additional 40 percent cut on top of the cuts we’ve already experienced — it’s not going to be possible to run some of these programs anymore because what can you do with such a small amount of money?

“This means that victims are going to be turned away, victims that need help, who need advocacy, who need support, who need basic needs, who need shelter. And we already know that we have a housing crisis here in the state of Rhode Island.”

She added: “So to have these cuts that will impact individuals and families, you know, the majority of the clients we work with, at least at Sojourner House, are families with small children and they will have even fewer options, which will mean that they’re going to either stay in an abusive situation or sleep in their car or sleep in places that aren’t habitable for humans.”

Read an Ocean State Stories Q & A with Sojourner House Deputy Executive Director Kate Bramson.

A correction was made on May 22, 2024: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that “a 40% cut in federal assistance to programs that serve victims of domestic violence has prompted a coalition of more than 30 organizations that offer a wide range of services to seek the General Assembly’s help in closing the projected $2-million shortfall.” The 40% cut is to victim service groups of all types. And not all of the coalition members are involved with domestic violence victims.