Federal anti-violence grants in balance?

Women’s advocates worry cuts coming

LANSING — Gov. Rick Snyder’s budget proposal calls for spending more than $4 million in federal grants to fight gender violence, but some local nonprofits are worried the money will evaporate under the Trump administration.

The Trump transition team is relying on the Heritage Foundation’s “Blueprint for Balance” as a foundation for reducing federal spending. It includes cutting grants combating violence against women.

“What we are hearing now from state organizations is we need to be more prepared to fight,” said Whitney Buffa, the program director for Women’s Information Service Inc. in Big Rapids.

The organization offers a 24-hour emergency shelter and crisis hotline, as well as education and prevention classes for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and their families. It serves Mecosta, Osceola and Newaygo counties.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, federal grants fund rape crisis centers, battered women’s shelters, public awareness activities, public policy advocacy and emergency crisis intervention.

Buffa said the STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program is the grant many local nonprofits are most concerned about losing. It allows nonprofits to hire advocates to provide victims with emotional support and legal guidance through both civil and criminal cases.

The STOP grant is federally issued to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, where it is allocated to advocacy organizations across the state. The department would receive about $4.3 million in violence against women grants for the next two years, according to Snyder’s proposal.

In addition to WISE, other recipients in West Michigan include the Holland Center for Women in Transition, Three Rivers Domestic and Sexual Abuse Services and YWCA West Central Michigan in Grand Rapids, according to Health and Human Services.

Northern Michigan recipients include the Cadillac Area OASIS, Ludington COVE and Traverse City Women’s Resource Center.

The Women’s Center in Marquette and Diane Peppler Resource Center in Sault Ste. Marie are recipients in the Upper Peninsula.

In addition to paying for the salaries and benefits of victim advocates, the grant allows advocacy organizations to have court fees waived and file police reports and personal protection orders on behalf of abused women, said Cindi DePetro, office manager for the Marquette Women’s Center.

The Marquette center also provides a domestic violence shelter, 24-hour emergency hotline and weekly support groups for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. It serves Marquette and Alger counties.

According to DePetro, her organization files 40 to 50 personal protection orders per year. While filing an order is free, serving the papers can cost between $10 and $100, according to court documents.

Along with statewide nonprofits, the Michigan State Police receives funding through violence against women grants. According to Snyder’s proposal, the State Police would receive $175,000 for the next two years.

Lori Dougovito, public affairs representative for the State Police, said the Michigan Commission on Law Enforcement Standards uses the STOP grant to fund officer training on domestic violence and sexual assault.

Officers receive eight hours of domestic violence training and 16 hours of sexual assault training, according to Hermina Kramp, the commission’s deputy executive director.

“We are training officers on any legal changes within the last year, and also we are looking at an appropriate response in terms of investigation, probable cause, arrest and assisting the victim or survivor,” Kramp said.

If STOP grant funding is cut off, the next move for nonprofits and the State Police remains unclear.

As far as Big Rapids, “we don’t know exactly how it’s going to play out,” Buffa said. “We will probably start looking at our own budget and pulling from general or reserve funds for stability, but we may have to restructure after that.”

For more information on federal violence against women programs, visit https://www.justice.gov/ovw/grant-programs.