Sparse state funding for rape crisis centers — again

Photo illustration of a sexual assault survivor: (Image: Joe Techapanupreeda, via Shutterstock)

When rape crisis center counselors and their advocates read Gov. Gavin Newsom’s draft budget for  the 2020-21 fiscal year,  they were extremely disappointed.

Despite a continued rise in California’s cost of living and the increase in the centers’ operating expenses, the state’s general fund contribution to its 84 rape crisis centers remains at $45,000 and $1.7 million from the State Penalty Fund, far less than the funding from the federal government through Congressional appropriations.

The bulk of their funding comes from the federal government through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and the Violence Against Women Act.

The centers, independent non-profits that help sexual assault survivors navigate the rape-testing process and the legal system. They also obtain therapy, housing and help with what other needs the victims may have.

The crisis centers are required by the state to provide specific services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks of a year. Their paid staff and volunteers are required to meet training levels set by the state.  Even though the centers must meet these state requirements, the state does not provide the funding that even the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (CalOES) says is needed for crisis centers to fulfill their mission. 

Rape crisis centers receive funding from a number of sources. The bulk of their funding comes from the federal government through the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and the Violence Against Women Act.

The state normally accounts for 5% of crisis center funding.  In most years, all of the $45,000 that is allocated from the state’s general fund — the state’s main coffer of sales, income, corporation and insurance taxes — goes to Alameda Health System, who operate a rape crisis program from Oakland’s Highland Hospital.

State funding dropped to $2.31 million in 2017-18, and then to $1.7 million 2018-19, where it remains today.

Almost all of California’s contribution comes from State Penalty Fund, which is made up of fines, court fees, bail forfeitures and penalties assessed on everyone from people caught running a stop sign to those convicted of robbing the bank.

From the 2013-14 fiscal year to fiscal 2016-17, that contribution was $3.67 million annually.

But because of declining revenues and legislative changes that gave the governor and Legislature greater control over the State Penalty Fund, the contribution dropped to $2.31 million in 2017-18, and then to $1.7 million 2018-19, where it remains today.

Meanwhile, federal funding through the Victims of Crime Act, far higher than the state’s support, has fluctuated dramatically in recent years, reaching a high of $37.8 million in the current fiscal year and down to $23.8 million in 2917-18.

For the 2018-19 fiscal year,  state Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (D-Baldwin Park) successfully pushed legislation to obtain a one-time bump of $5 million to rape crisis centers from the state general fund,  and an additional $5 million to sexual assault prevention programs to be split between rape crisis centers and domestic violence prevention services.

The “additional $5 million” from the 2019 Budget Act did not target rape crisis intervention, which is most of what rape crisis centers do.

The money trail gets complicated here.

Despite requests for continued funding by Beall, Rubio, and state Sen. Susan Rubio (D-Los Angeles), the money was not renewed. The state Department of Finance, which writes the governor’s budgets, noted the “2019 Budget Act did include an additional $5 million on a one-time basis, with equal amounts allocated to rape crisis centers and to family violence prevention centers.”

The “additional $5 million” from the 2019 Budget Act did not target rape crisis intervention – helping survivors while they are in crisis — which is most of what rape crisis centers do.

Instead, the money – actually $4.75 million – was specifically allocated to sexual assault prevention programs. And while the intent was to the split the funds “equally between rape crisis centers and domestic violence prevention centers,” restrictions from the state Office of Emergency Services prohibit any rape crisis center receiving a lesser grant from the State Department of Public Health from applying for the $150,000 Sexual and Domestic Violence Prevention Program grant.

Under this OES rule, 40% of the state’s rape crisis programs cannot receive full or partial funding from the 2019-20 prevention grant, which rape crisis advocates fear will give them an unequal share of the $4.7 million. The OES, by law, manages the money flow

Rape crisis centers and their advocates are not pleased with Gov. Newsom’s budget proposal. 

May Rico, executive director of Haven Women’s Center of Stanislaus,  said she was “disappointed that California has again failed to dedicate adequate state resources for addressing the needs of sexual assault survivors in California. In a state where minimum wage is going up a dollar a year, and medical insurance costs for employees rise every year, flat funding means reduced hours if we can’t figure out a way to make up the difference with other funding sources.”

“Funding from the state has not kept up with demand or basic operating costs.” — Tanis Crosby

While Rico was not specific about her organization’s budget cuts, other rape crisis centers were.

NEWS, the non-profit operating Napa County’s rape crisis center reports that its personnel costs have risen 37% in the last three years. A spokesperson says, “Finding qualified candidates is costing more and more.” The costs driven are by Napa’s high cost of living — “Everything is expensive in Napa County,” the spokesperson said — and wage hikes, recruiting bi-lingual staff, increased health insurance costs and increased demand.

Tanis Crosby, CEO of YWCA-Silicon Valley, which operates two of Santa Clara Counties three rape crisis centers, says, “Until Aug 2016 our monthly rent for our ‘North County’ Rape Crisis Center business office in Sunnyvale was $2836 monthly for 1230 square feet.  As of September 2020, the rent will be $5901.15 monthly – more than double what we paid in 2016.”

Crosby adds that “[the state’s] Rape Crisis Center ‘Service Standards’ require that we must provide ‘normal business hours’, which requires a business office… This is an ‘unfunded mandate’. We are required to deliver on functions that are not resourced by the state.” Additionally, “Funding from the state has not kept up with demand or basic operating costs.”

The governor’s office and the Department of Finance, when asked repeatedly by Capitol Weekly why the state’s contribution from the general find and State Penalty Fund have not kept up with the rise in California’s cost of living or the increase demand of rape crisis center services, there was no reply.

Legislative sources said a push for a funding increase was likely in the Capitol this year.

“Discussions in the Legislature are ongoing regarding a potential budget play to increase funding to these crucial centers,” one said. A definitive decision, however, is months away.

The 2020-21 budget will be negotiated through the spring and sent to the governor by the constitutional deadline of June 15, and Newsom then has two weeks to act on the multibillion-dollar document.

Until then, the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, which is one of the organizations representing rape crisis centers in the Capitol, vows to “continue advocating for inclusion [of greater funding] in either the governor’s May Revise budget, or the budget that will be passed by the legislature in June as we have done the last two years.”

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