Press release from Pisgah Legal Services
Drastic cuts at the federal level have devastated funds previously relied upon by nonprofits to provide critical services to victims of domestic violence, sexual abuse, child abuse and trafficking. The cuts will be felt by Pisgah Legal Services (PLS) and other local nonprofits and the clients they serve starting this Fall.
Who Will be Impacted and How?
Starting October 1st, Pisgah Legal will have significantly less funding for this work. PLS will receive approximately $360,000 a year of federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funds, a source that used to provide more than $1 million annually. Over the past two years, Pisgah Legal has been able to use American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds from Buncombe County and other federal grant funding to alleviate this loss of funding, but those funds are running out.
Jim Barrett, Executive Director of nonprofit Pisgah Legal Services, reports the VOCA funding was Pisgah Legal’s largest grant for abuse prevention work. Last year 34% of PLS cases were related to domestic violence, child abuse and related custody issues, serving a total of 7,410 people throughout WNC.
Barrett says, “The cut in federal VOCA funding, coupled with the loss of other funding, impacts a wide variety of our work – from attorneys who accompany domestic violence survivors to court to fight for protection orders, custody and financial resources – to social workers who help clients and their children rebuild their lives once they have escaped their abusers. People who cannot afford an attorney suffer greater harm because they have much more difficulty separating their lives from their abusers and are more likely to return to dangerous situations for economic reasons or to be with their children.”
He continues, “Pisgah Legal’s federal VOCA funding was specifically being used to serve folks who live in rural areas and people of color, groups we know are already disproportionately impacted by a lack of resources. Without sufficient funding, we will have to cut staff and services.”
Legal services are more likely to ensure survivors of domestic and sexual violence can successfully leave dangerous situations and find safety because they can obtain protective orders, child custody and child support orders, and other supports that help them achieve independence and security. Studies show that having a lawyer is one of the best ways to prevent future instances of domestic violence. Pisgah Legal’s work not only impacts the victims who seek our services, but also over 4,000 children experiencing or witnessing violence at home each year, an essential aspect of reducing ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences) for children. Kelda H. is a local survivor of domestic violence who was referred to Pisgah Legal by Helpmate. Her Pisgah Legal attorney helped her secure a protective order against her abuser as well as custody of her child. Kelda says, “I know what it feels like to be trapped and hopeless. But now I’m finally free to do what I want with my life.”
While interpersonal violence may seem like an individualized problem, it impacts the whole community. Interpersonal violence was estimated to cost the state of North Carolina over $503 million in 2018, including mental and physical health care costs, policing and court costs, lost productivity, and more. This estimate was very low because it only looked at direct costs and did not include the value a life lost to domestic violence or the lifetime of poor health caused by the trauma of child abuse. People observing abuse as children are much more likely to perpetrate abuse on others as adults. Abusive behavior is learned; stopping abuse in this generation breaks the intergenerational cycle of abuse.
What Happens Now?
Barrett and other nonprofit leaders are advocating to replace this funding. “We are committed to providing these essential services to the people who need it most, but we can’t do it without community support,” said Barrett. “If we want to continue serving people in crisis, we will need help.”
April Burgess-Johnson, Executive Director of Helpmate, shares Barrett’s concerns. She says, “the constriction of VOCA funding is having an unprecedented impact on services for survivors of domestic violence, sexual violence and child maltreatment. Without local support, crime victims will lose critical and life-saving services provided by organizations such as Helpmate and Pisgah Legal Services. Often, survivors must interact with the civil legal system to seek protection from abuse, and Pisgah Legal Services offers vital supports for survivors as they navigate this complex process. Helpmate is proud to partner with Pisgah Legal Services to meet the needs of survivors and we are grateful for the community’s support of our collaborative work.”
Pisgah Legal and other domestic violence agencies are seeking immediate replacement funding from WNC counties, foundations, donors, faith communities, and businesses. The community needs to stand together to make sure survivors still have access to justice.
How Can I Help?
Make a donation to one of the following WNC nonprofits that have depended on federal VOCA funding:
Contact your local county commissioners and state legislators to encourage them to support this vital community service.
Nonprofit Pisgah Legal Services (PLS) provides a broad array of free, civil legal aid, anti-poverty advocacy and access to health care assistance in the 18-county WNC region. Last year, Pisgah Legal served more than 21,000 people.
PLS has offices in Asheville, Burnsville, Franklin, Hendersonville, Highlands/Cashiers, Marshall, Morganton, Newland, Rutherfordton, Spruce Pine and Waynesville so that we can meet people where they are. Pisgah Legal employs staff attorneys and harnesses the power of approximately 300 volunteer lawyers who work pro bono to assist PLS clients.