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State offers scant funding to rape crisis centers

California’s 84 rape crisis centers are in a funding crisis.

While California has experienced a steady rise in the number of reported rapes (over 5% per year since 2015), the state’s annual General Fund contribution to rape crisis centers over the past decade has been a miniscule $45,000 — and all of that money has gone to just one center.

During one fiscal year, however, there was an exception.

In the state budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year, California upped its contribution to $5 million, only to drop funding back to $45,000 for the current fiscal year. There was no immediate explanation why.

And despite California’s interminable battles with the federal government over funding for an array of programs, the rape crisis centers receive more money from federal sources than they do from their own state.

Rape crisis centers are required by law to run a telephone crisis line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Rape crisis centers (RCCs) are non-profit service organizations. Of the 84 operating in California, some are stand-alone programs, which only provide services to victims of sexual assault and their families. Many operate in conjunction with other service providers, usually those that serve victims of domestic violence.

This is how the system works: When a person is been sexually assaulted and reports the crime to the police, the state law  requires the attending law enforcement officer to notify the victim of his or her rights, including the available services of a sexual assault counselor.

If the survivor is taken by the police to a hospital for “a medical evidentiary or physical examination,” the officer must “immediately notify the local rape victim counseling center,” a rape crisis center.

Rape crisis centers are required by law to run a telephone crisis line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. When a sexual assault survivor, a law enforcement officer, or hospital personnel notify a RCC, state service standards require that a sexual assault councilor respond to that call within 10 minutes.

State law also allows the survivor to have a sexual assault councilor present at “any initial medical evidentiary examination, physical examination, or investigative interview arising out of a sexual assault.” The law also requires an RCC to provide follow-up counseling services, including in-person and group counseling, as well as accompaniment and advocacy services. They can include a rape crisis advocate who serves as a survivor’s case manager. RCCs must also hold “community education” and rape prevention presentations, and offer self-defense programs.

In most years, the Victims of Crime Act accounts for 88% of all funding to California RCCs.

RCCs are not run by the state, but in order to receive any state funding, they are required by law to meet service standards set by the State Advisory Committee on Sexual Assault Victim Services.

California’s RCCs have four main sources of funding.

The primary source is the federal Victims of Crime Act’s Crime Victims Fund (VOCA). VOCA is funded through criminal fines, penalties, bail forfeitures, and the like. In most years, VOCA accounts for 88% of all funding to California RCCs.

The second largest source of funding is through the federal Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). In most years, this accounts for 7% of the money sent to RCCs. VAWA funds come from Congressional appropriations.

Both VOCA and VAWA funds are administered by the state’s Office of Emergency Services, which uses formulas that look at population, the nature of sexual assault cases, the resources required by each type of case, special demands of a certain region, and other issues.

California’s penalty assessment dollars sent to RCCs account for 5% of federal and state funding

In total, the federal money that OES distributes to California’s RCCs makes up 95% of what these programs receive from government, with a few exceptions.

California’s contribution to its RCCs are minimal. Like VOCA, the state has its own crime victims’ fund, which is also built through court-ordered penalty assessments, which include fines, penalties and forfeitures.

California’s penalty assessment dollars sent to RCCs account for 5% of federal and state funding.  These funds are administered through OES.

The state also provides RCCs with a general fund contribution, but since all the money goes to just one program, its impact statewide is virtually nonexistent.

Since the 2016-17 fiscal year, the state through OES allocated all $45,000 to one RCC, Alameda Health Services.

“Forty-five thousand accomplishes what? It’s not even a living wage in California. Forty-five thousand dollars for 58 counties is not even a thousand dollars per county,” says Democratic Assemblymember Blanca Rubio of Baldwin Park, a fierce advocate for the rape crisis programs.

Actually, Rubio is being generous.

Since the 2016-17 fiscal year, the state through OES allocated all $45,000 to one RCC, Alameda Health Services. The other 83 RCCs operating in the state got no money at all from the state, or zero dollars for the state’s 57 other counties.

On average, when federal money is factored in, each California’s RCC receives $420,000 in federal and state contributions, though the range in the funding to individual RCCs varies greatly.

High-demand RCCs such as Rape Counseling Services of Fresno’s main office took in $753,000 in government money, while the Plumas branch of Plumas Crisis Intervention & Resource Center netted $281,000.

According to Tanis Crosby, the CEO of YWCA-Silicon Valley, RCCs welcome the state’s requirements. RCCs are there to serve sexual assault survivors and fast response times, 24-hour availability, and post-assault counseling are vital to the health and well-being of survivors.

“The amount of state resources for a state mandate is a sum total of $45,000 and that is not tenable.”  — Tanis Crosby 

The problem, she noted, is that while the state demands much of RCCs, it is unwilling to directly provide the funds to pay for the services that they demand.

Crosby says the combination of California’s stringent program requirements, service standards, and near-non-existent monetary contribution constitutes an “unfunded mandate.”

“The amount of state resources for a state mandate is a sum total of $45,000 and that is not tenable,” she said. “The state has decreased resources to RCC. It has cut, in the very year after the Kavanaugh hearings, at the very moment that demand is skyrocketing, the state of California has cut funding from RCCs. “

Despite an average 2.3% yearly increase in California’s cost of living and even an even steeper increase in rents and housing prices, the General Fund contribution has remained flat.

Last year, State Sen. Jim Beall (D-San Jose) and Rubio sent to the Democratic chairs of the Senate and Assembly Budget Committees and two budget subcommittees – Sen. Holly Mitchell, Assemblymember Phil Ting, Sen. Richard Roth and Assemblymember Shirley Weber – a budget request for a $50 million for “domestic and sexual violence prevention and complimentary services,” including rape crisis programs.

“The issue became a lot more prominent with the (Brett) Kavanaugh testimony.” — Sen, Jim Beall

The Legislature’s budget committees and then-Gov. Jerry Brown approved $10 million — $5 million for prevention programs and $5 million for rape crisis programs. The increased funding constituted an average $60,000 bump in revenue each RCC, or the cost of one full-time rape crisis advocate.

While there was not an official budget statement as to why sexual assault prevention and rape crisis programs received increased funding, both Beall and Rubio believed their advocacy and that of the California Coalition Against Sexual Assault, California Partnership to End Domestic Violence and the state’s RCCs was essential.

Beall also credits the temporary change in California’s funding priorities to current events.

“The issue became a lot more prominent with the (Brett) Kavanaugh testimony,” he said. “There was more attention paid to the issue. That played a big role.”

None of the six directors of rape crisis programs that Capitol Weekly talked to for this story anticipated the decrease in funding.

Also playing a role was the rise of the #MeToo movement, fallout from the Chanel Miller/Brock Turner sexual assault case and sexual misconduct scandals in the Legislature.

Earlier this year, Blanca Rubio, Beall and Sen. Susan Rubio – a sexual assault survivor – sent another letter to the Senate and Assembly budget committee and subcommittee chairs. They renewed their request for a $50 million General Fund allocation for sexual assault prevention and intervention programs, and asked that the money be reallocated continuously.

Their effort failed. In fact, the $10 million approved the year before dropped back down to $45,000, and all of that went to one program.

For 83 of the state’s 84 rape crisis centers, the failure in the 2019-20 fiscal year to see a continuation of earlier year’s allocation resulted in a 13% cut in total, OES-administered funding.

None of the six directors of rape crisis programs that Capitol Weekly talked to for this story anticipated the decrease in funding. All had budgeted for the coming year believing that the $10 million appropriation would continue. When they received word that they would not receive the state General Fund money, they said they were unable to find out why.

Family Services of Tulare County hoped to move its rape crisis program into a bigger space, but instead patched together money to find a smaller space for its sexual assault councilors.

Capitol Weekly asked state authorities about the $10 million decrease and why funding had been set at $45,000 for many years.

A spokesperson for the state Department of Finance, which writes the governor’s budgets, said in an email that the funds were appropriated in 2018 “represented a one-time appropriation that was included in last year’s Budget Act.  By their nature, one-time appropriations are subject to point-in-time budgetary determinations each year, and the 2018 funding was not repeated in the same manner in 2019.”

The Finance Department suggested contacting the chairs of the budget committees and subcommittees.

All except Mitchell’s office declined to discuss the issue with Capitol Weekly.

“The money appropriated was a onetime allocation (i.e.: there was never a promise this money was ongoing), her office said. ”Because the allocation was one time in nature, technically it is not perceived as a cut. With respect to the real-world impact of living with $5 million less than the previous year, we look forward to hearing more from the community as to what that means to them and what they need moving forward.” 

What the funding drop meant to individual RCCs varied.

Family Services of Tulare County hoped to move its rape crisis program into a bigger space, but instead patched together money to find a smaller space for its sexual assault councilors.

But RCCs in the state’s more rural and poorer counties who lack these resources have to struggle without.

Stanislaus County’s Haven Women’s Center had a raise on the books for its financially stressed workers (rape crisis advocates’ starting pay is at or near minimum wage). Raises did not happen. They also were unable to continue funding a staff position at California State University, Stanislaus. The college later stepped in to save the position. Other RCCs we talked to faced similar setbacks.

Since none of the rape crisis centers had any warning that they would lose their slice of the General Fund contribution, all had to juggle their budgets to cut costs while maintaining their levels of service.

Rape crisis programs in wealthier urban areas have been able to make up some of the shortfall with local government funding and philanthropy. But RCCs in the state’s more rural and poorer counties who lack these resources have to struggle without.

Some legislative consultants familiar with the issue suggested privately that federal authorities have a greater responsibility than the state.

CALCASA, the Partnership and advocates in the Legislature were able to obtain a promise to restore $5 million in “domestic and sexual violence prevention” funding.

Sandra Henriquez, the CEO of CALCASA, disputes the claim that RCCs are the feds’ responsibility.

“Rape crisis centers in California are absolutely not ‘federal programs. They are state programs defined in the California state penal code.  For nearly 40 years, the state has chosen not to adequately fund its sexual assault safety net, and has allowed the federal government to carry that responsibility.”

Documents from the state’s own Office of Emergency Services (OES) which acts as a pipeline for those federal dollars, show that the current level of federal and state funding is not enough.  OES fund charts for California’s rape crisis programs (RRCs) reveal that the gap between “total project costs” and the “total cash award” from federal/state funding is $7.5 million in total or an average of $92,000 per RCC. 

In July 2019, CALCASA, the Partnership and advocates in the Legislature were able to obtain a promise to restore $5 million in “domestic and sexual violence prevention” funding.

The restored funding currently is under consideration. The proposal includes language that would enable RCCs to tap into that money, but only for prevention work — not for intervention.  The state general fund contribution to help RCCs’ intervention work, which is most of what RCCs do, remains at $45,000 for one RCC and zero dollars for the remaining eighty-three.

What should the state’s financial support for the RCCs be?

Beall, Rubio and five RCC program directors who we contacted agreed with Henriquez.

CALCASA has been advocating for $50 million from the state general fund to go towards addressing and preventing sexual violence in California, including increasing funding available to rape crisis centers.  When sexual violence costs the state nearly $140 billion, $50 million is a comparably small price to pay to prevent it – little more than $1 for every Californian. 

“The current level of $45,000 in ongoing state general funding to the issue is shameful, and California needs a sustained commitment to the prevention of sexual violence before it ever takes place.”

Ed’s Note: This is the
first of several stories on California’s rape crisis centers.


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