PEORIA — Add the Center for Prevention of Abuse and its clients to the list of local people and organizations affected by the partial shutdown of the U.S. government. The center had been set to receive some $1.8 million in the current fiscal year, representing about one-third of the agency's funding. Now it's in limbo.
"That's a pretty significant chunk," says Carol Merna, the organization's executive director.
Federal agencies have not missed any payments yet, she says, but they've been told that if the shutdown continues, they can expect delays.
Funds through the Violence Against Women Act — which lapsed when it was not renewed as part of the legislation to fund the government — help cover the costs to operate order of protection offices in three local county courthouses, which processed 1,947 orders of protection last year.
The monies also help operate the Family Justice Center and the prevention education program that taught 34,560 kids in the Tri-County Area about child sexual abuse prevention, bullying prevention and teen dating violence prevention and about healthy relationships.
Similarly, the interruption in the Victims of Crime Act means a halt in the flow of funds to provide therapy for sexual assault and domestic violence survivors and to support operations at the center's two emergency shelters, which provided 8,450 nights of care last year.
Likewise, funds to the newly instituted human trafficking services program flow through the unfunded Department of Justice. Last year, 17 victims of labor and sex trafficking were cared for through that program throughout downstate Illinois.
Merna says that because "we've lived through this before" — notably with missing state reimbursements during the two-year budget stalemate from 2015-17 — officials at the center have learned to keep a generous reserve account.
"We expect it to be another month or two before we really start to see that what (the federal government owes) us is starting to add up," she said.
Her concern at this stage is how what she acknowledges is a valid national debate is having consequences on innocent bystanders.
"People in crisis are being used as leverage," she said. "The process is the worrisome part of it. I don't condemn the debate or the issues, because those are very difficult decisions to make. It's just using people as a wedge."
Meanwhile, domestic violence advocates said it's not only a potentially dangerous consequence of political strife in Washington, D.C., but also an insulting message to send to women to have not renewed the Violence Against Women Act.
"We don't treat violence against women with the urgency that it deserves," said Deborah Tuerkheimer, a Northwestern University law professor who has specialized in domestic violence prosecution. "We, as a society, are not grappling with the severity of the problem, the pervasiveness of the problem and the way it affects so many lives. The desperate search for funds (for the Violence Against Women Act) in the 11th hour is one indication of that."
The Violence Against Women Act, enacted in 1994, provides protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and must be reauthorized every five years by Congress. The act also provides funding for social service agencies and programs that support survivors of such violence, which must be renewed annually.
"The basic cultural change that it ushered in, even before #MeToo, about how we look at domestic violence and sexual assault and how we respond to it was huge," Merna said. "It made a tremendous difference not only nationally but especially here at home."
Although one budget bill extended some funds under the act through early February, U.S. Department of Justice employees who issue those checks are among federal workers furloughed during the shutdown, according to social service providers.
Kate Thayer of Tribune News Service contributed to this report.