A recently awarded grant for expanding legal and health advocacy programs at the University of New Mexico’s Women’s Resource Center (WRC) is caught up in the ongoing partial government shutdown.

In December 2018, the Office of Violence Against Women (OVW) in the Department of Justice (DOJ) awarded UNM a $300,000 “Grant to Reduce Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking on Campus Program” grant.

Over 60 universities are current recipients of the grant. Partners in the grant at UNM include the WRC and El Centro de la Raza.

Over the next three years, the UNM WRC intends to “increase the UNM community’s capacity to provide holistic, trauma-informed and culturally-sensitive victim advocacy and support on campus,” according to a UNM press release in early December.

The grant depends on a long-time act that was not renewed in December.

The Violence Against Women’s Act (VAWA) was included in legislation to fund agencies operating on temporary budgets, which expired on Friday, Dec. 7 at midnight.

VAWA was first passed in 1994, and reaffirmed four times, to administer and fund programs to aid women survivors of intimate partner violence, stalking and sexual assault. These can include shelters, crisis centers, legal advice and grants — like the one UNM received.

Programs funded by VAWA are run by both the DOJ and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS was fully funded in September and their programs are unaffected by shutdown and the DOJ is unable to fulfill payment requests until a new budget for this year is passed.

“Over the break we did hear there is a hold on our funding, we’re waiting to figure out what this means with the VAWA renewal,” said Caitlin Henke, a program specialist for the WRC. Henke said the Office of Violence against Women released a small amount of the money for travel to attend the first orientation so WRC staff, could go to the first orientation training, right before the holiday break.

The Washington Post reported already-awarded grants will not be affected by the lapse, but authorized VAWA-funded programs will experience delayed payment requests.

Henke said the funding will include expanding counseling groups and workshops. She said graduate students who are employed at the WRC are crucial to creating programs that provide the services most needed on the campus.

The prospective programs include:

  • Peer-advocate system: train student volunteers to provide support and guidance through options for survivors on campus, including navigating services offered and accompanying students to appointments.
  • Providing more legal support, and partnering with UNM School of Law to create educational videos and online resources for legal questions to be translated into multiple languages.
  • Expand trainings for campus police, Office of Equal Opportunity investigators, staff, advocates and health workers on survivor support services.

WRC Director Jessica Holland said a majority of the plans are still in a budget approval process despite the grant being awarded — meaning consequences for held funds are not immediate.

The grant is structured by OVW procedure requiring recipients to use the first of their three years to only plan for implementing funds — programs are started in the second and third years.

Holland said the confusion about VAWA grant funds is not changing the goals of providing a legal and health advocacy curriculum.

“I’m very optimistic that the bill (VAWA) will be re-approved, but I think (the WRC) is not even focused on the uncertainty in funding but how to still provide support in health services, mental health and legal advocacy,” Holland said.

Holland said the WRC is a grassroots organization securing 83 percent of their funding through appropriations from student fees. In the worst-case scenario, she said the money could come from somewhere else in the community.

“Grant or no grant we see those needs, if something were to happen with the funding we could get the money another way,” Holland said.

Reauthorizing VAWA would require Congress to pass a spending bill to end the partial government shutdown.

The House of Representatives — with a new democratic majority — passed two spending bills Thursday to fund the government until Sept. 30.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican from Kentucky, has repeatedly said he would not bring the spending bills to the Senate Floor for a vote, citing the President Trump’s refusal to sign any laws without $5.7 billion earmarked for construction of a border wall.

Trump threatened this past Saturday to keep the government shutdown for “months or even years.” The government shutdown is affecting over 800,000 government employees, and continued budget lapses will defund programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) by mid-February.

Danielle Prokop is a senior reporter for the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter @ProkopDani.