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Bipartisan Capitol push for rape crisis center funding

The state Capitol in Sacramento, late in the day. (Photo: Adonis Villanueva, via Shutterstock)

A bipartisan group of state legislators are urging increased funding for California’s 84 rape crisis centers as reports of sexual assault and domestic violence rise under COVID-19 shelter-in-place orders.

The push across partisan lines has developed in recent weeks.  Although required by state law to perform numerous services that include crisis intervention and counseling, the centers get most of their money from private donations, local penalties and fees, and Congress — but not the state.

The ongoing campaign by the lawmakers, has been joined by Republican colleagues who are developing their own proposal.

When Gov. Newsom’s draft budget dropped in January, total general fund support for the centers remained at $45,000. Legislative sources said a number of lawmakers planned to fight for more money, although it was too early to get into specifics.

In recent days,  state Sens. Jim Beall and Assemblymember Blanca Rubio — both Democrats — indicated they are seeking increased state funding.

The ongoing campaign by the lawmakers, has been joined by Republican colleagues who are developing their own proposal.

Republican Assemblymembers Tom Lackey and Jordan Cunningham sent a letter to Assemblymember Shirley Weber, chair of budget subcommittee 5, requesting a $5 million, one-time bump for rape crisis centers in the 2020-21 fiscal year, which starts July 1.

The March 9 letter was signed by five other Republican lawmakers, including Assemblymembers Melissa Melendez and Devon Mathis.

But in a matter of days, California changed.

On March 11, in a measure to control coronavirus spread, San Francisco Mayor London Breed banned all gatherings of over 1,000 people, including Golden State Warriors games. The NBA followed by postponing the basketball season.

The centers provide a vital response to COVID-19, specifically the reported rise in sexual abuse in the home, an unintended consequence of shelter-in-place.

On March 13, Breed lowered the crowd-limit size to 100 people.  Bay Area businesses, especially those in tech, start closing down office buildings and campuses, sending their employees off to work from home.

On March 19, Santa Clara, San Francisco and four other Bay Area counties announced a shelter-in-place order. All business not deemed essential were ordered to close. The next day, Newsom issued a statewide order to shelter-in-place — the first in the nation.

On March 24, the state Department of Finance released a budget letter that said the impact of COVID-19 on “economic activity, with corresponding negative effects on anticipated revenues” had forced the department to rethink Newsom’s draft budget. All budget requests would be evaluated “within the context of a workload budget, based on the merits of each proposal, and ultimately subject to the availability of funding,” the department said.

In a March 30 letter to the Legislature, Democratic Assemblymember Philip Ting, the chair of the budget committee, wrote, “We must lower expectations about our budget outlook to reflect our new reality. With state revenues likely being dramatically reduced in the coming year, I do not believe we will have the resources to fund many Member priorities this year, beyond a small few that deal with the response and recovery to COVID 19.”

“With thousands of people on ‘shelter in place’ or ‘lockdown’ orders, many people are forced to shelter with their abusive partner.” — Jim Beall

Rape crisis advocates in the Legislature insist that rape crisis centers not only provide essential services, but that a vital response to COVID-19 fallout, specifically the reported rise in sexual abuse in the home, an unintended consequence of shelter-in-place.

The California Coalition Against Sexual Assault (CALCASA), which lobbies on behalf of the rape crisis centers, says most of the centers saw no drop off in calls to their hotlines, despite the danger and difficulty of the abused reaching out for help while still in physical proximity of the abuser.

While it is too early for hard data on in-home sexual assault to appear, Capitol Weekly contacted a number of rape crisis centers, who confirmed CALCASA’s claim.

Additionally, other countries who instituted coronavirus lockdowns earlier than California’s report higher rates of domestic violence and sexual abuse than usual. Experts are particularly concerned about children trapped at home with their abuser.

Beall believes that coronavirus lockdowns intensify the need for rape crisis services.

“With thousands of people on ‘shelter in place’ or ‘lockdown’ orders, many people are forced to shelter with their abusive partner.” He adds, “An ongoing fund source would significantly augment the community-based group’s ability to remain active and effective during the crisis.”

Beall has called for a $15 million increase in ongoing funding for centers. Blanca Rubio, Beall’s longtime ally on the issue, also supports increased funding.

“When the Legislature reconvenes, I plan to continue to advocate for funding services to survivors of domestic violence as our society looks to recover from this crisis.” she said.

“These centers provide a vital service and we need them now more than ever.” — Marie Waldron.

The push for more funding for RCCs during the COVID is finding support in both parties.

When asked if the COVID-19 crisis had scuttled the Republican members’ $5 million request for the rape crisis centers, Lackey’s office wrote in an email: “It has been said that the budget will focus on responding to the effects of the crisis however we believe that RCC funding is an essential response to the crisis.“

Republican Assemblywoman Melissa Melendez, a signatory, told Capitol Weekly that she also stood by the March request, as did Assemblymember Devon Mathis.

Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron added, “These centers provide a vital service and we need them now more than ever. I really appreciate Assemblymembers Lackey and Cunningham leadership on this issue and I definitely support RCCs getting the funding they deserve.”

Capitol Weekly emailed all 119 members of the state Legislature, asking them if they support increased funding from rape crisis centers during the COVID 19 crisis. Twenty senators and Assemblymembers said that they will support increased funding when it is requested.

State and local budgets, workers, and businesses are not the only ones taking a financial hit.

Thirteen senators and Assemblymembers said that they supported increased funding for rape crisis centers but would wait and see what the state finances looked like before committing to a vote.

While there is no reliable data on how hard California’s economy will be hit by the coronavirus and shelter-in-place orders, economist suggest that California will experience an economic slowdown.

The Legislative Analysts Office reports that “the state likely will be facing a budget problem” due to “higher direct costs to respond to public health emergency, higher indirect costs as a result of changes in the economy, [and] lower revenues as a result of changes in the economy.”

San Francisco is the only locality thus far to put a number on the impact the virus will have on its budget. The city expects to incur a $1.7 billion budget deficit over the next two years, due to a combination of decreased tax revenue and increased spending on helping workers and small business get through the crisis.

State and local budgets, workers, and businesses are not the only ones taking a financial hit. April is “National Sexual Assault Awareness Month,” fundraising time for many rape crisis centers. Shelter-in-place orders and prudency has at least twelve centers cancelling or postponing major fundraisers.

San Francisco Women Against Rape (SFWAR) canceled their 14th Annual Walk Against Rape. This year SFWAR had a fundraising goal of $80,000, In past years, SFWAR has exceeded their fundraising goals.

CALCASA notes that rape crisis centers are having to equip themselves with technology they haven’t previously used.

Advocates for survivors of sexual abuse and assault recognize April 24 as International Denim Day. Public events are held throughout the country, including at the state Capitol, where advocates hold a rally and lobby lawmakers on the issue. This year all public events have been canceled.

Fundraising opportunities disappear or are put on hold, but that doesn’t stop rape crisis centers from operating or having to pay their bills. Employees and rent must be paid, as well as new expenses brought about by the crisis.

CALCASA notes that rape crisis centers are having to equip themselves with technology they haven’t previously used. Monterey County’s Rape Crisis Center (MCRCC), for example, is “compensating everyone for phone and internet usage.” MCRCC also had to purchase “a few different remote work technologies.”

And there are non-tech related expenses. Maraposa County’s Alliance for Community Transformations, which provides services for domestic violence and sexual assault, reports additional outlays for cleaning supplies, protective gear and hotel rooms to house survivors.

While Beall, Rubio, Lackey and others are pressing the state for more funding, some legislators are taking their request federal.

On March 30, Assemblymenber Tim Grayson (D) and seventeen members of the Legislature wrote U.S. Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris asking that any stimulus package include “additional funding for organizations that serve survivors of domestic violence, elder abuse, child abuse, and sexual assault,” citing increased risk of abuse as an unintended consequence of shelter-in-place orders.

Harris and Feinstein acknowledged receipt of the later, but Grayson’s office said it had “not received any response from either office beyond that.”

 

 


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