Funding for dozens of agencies that serve Minnesota’s domestic abuse and sexual assault victims could be cut off if the federal shutdown lasts beyond next Friday.
Leaders for advocacy groups across the state are scrambling to plan for how to keep their staff and services intact should that happen. Layoffs and furloughs could be a possibility.
“It would devastate us,” said Kristen Houlton Shaw, executive director of the Sexual Violence Center in Minneapolis. “It means I wouldn’t be able to pay my staff. I don’t know how we would continue.”
“We would,” she quickly added. “But I don’t know how that happens.”
Advocacy groups such as the SVC get the lion’s share of their funding through the federal Crime Victims Fund, which is financed by fines paid by convicted offenders. That fund paid out $56 million to Minnesota agencies last year.
The federal Office for Victims of Crime, which manages the fund, has said it will stop reimbursements on Jan. 18 if the shutdown continues.
If that happens, Gov. Tim Walz could authorize the use of state dollars, said Myron Frans, Minnesota’s Management and Budget commissioner.
Frans said Walz has asked his office to come up with a list of groups that he would recommend should receive the cash-flow dollars, and Frans said advocacy groups would be on that list.
However, “it can’t be indefinite,” Frans said.
The shutdown has put other states’ advocacy groups in perilous positions as well. The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence, for example, said the shutdown could cause mass layoffs and force shelters to close their doors.
The situation would not be immediately as dire in Minnesota, said Liz Richards, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women. Minnesota provides more state dollars to advocacy groups than other states do, and the state has told advocates it can help pick up some of the funding, Richards said.
But the longer the shutdown goes, “there’s a real risk of having to shut doors,” she said.
Kim Mongoven, a spokeswoman for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said a situation similar to that in Florida could happen here if the shutdown lasted to the point where the state no longer had funds to spare.
“Even in the worst-case scenario, we would create coverage and would work with member programs where there might be an issue to get another crisis center to cover that area while the shutdown continued,” she said.
Houlton Shaw of the SVC said she would work to make sure that victims wouldn’t see a loss of services after Jan. 18, but she acknowledged that temporary solutions can only last so long.
“People will still be going to the hospital. They just might not have an advocate,” she said.
At Anoka’s Alexandra House, which provides emergency shelter and advocacy for victims of domestic and sexual violence, executive director Connie Moore said the challenge is not knowing how long agencies like hers can continue to provide services should the shutdown continue past next week.
“It’s unknown territory,” she said. “How far in the future can we carry these important services?”