Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy: The Real Cost of the Republican Shutdown

Once again, we are marking another day -- now the twelfth – that our Nation’s Government has been paralyzed by this unnecessary shutdown. And once again I come to the Floor to offer another example of how Vermonters, and people around the country, are suffering due to this Tea Party shutdown.
Earlier this year, I worked with Senator Crapo to build the support we needed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), and I was proud when both the Senate and House passed this legislation with strong bipartisan votes.  We put our differences aside for the sake of the people we serve. We sent a clear message that violence against women will not be tolerated. We put the needs of victims first when we promised rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters they would have the resources they need to keep their doors open and to keep their 24-hour hotlines staffed. Regrettably, as October marks Domestic Violence Awareness Month, so many of these lifesaving programs are caught in the political crossfire of the Tea Party Shutdown.

Today, as Federal funds are held hostage by the Tea Party shutdown, we are starting to see the real toll of this brinksmanship. In Franklin County, Vermont, advocates were hopeful when they learned that a FY14 grant would allow one staff person to help victims of LGBT domestic assault in that rural region. The hope has quickly given way to frustration, when the funding did not come through as promised on October 1.

In Barre City, Vermont, population 9,200, the police force has furloughed two half-time detectives who provide 24/7 coverage for special responses to domestic violence cases. These detectives were also providing critical training to their colleagues on how to answer these challenging calls.  

There is a long list of programs funded with VAWA grants that continue to provide services to victims -- and incur the related costs – based on the hope that they will be reimbursed once funding is restored. They have no choice. Despite what the Tea Party might think, closing the spigot on funding does not mean the victims go away.

Perhaps the bigger concern, however, is what will happen to victims and their children when the money for WIC and TANF programs runs dry. We know that many domestic violence survivors rely on these supports when they need to leave their abusers. When combined with impending cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), I worry about whether these funding shortfalls will force victims and their children to remain in homes with their abusers. This is shameful.

Kris Lukens, director of Voices Against Violence in St. Albans, Vermont, says the uncertainty is the hardest part, both for her agency and the victims it serves. At the end of the last week, the first of the Tea Party shutdown, she said, “We are fielding a lot of calls from survivors who don’t know how they are going to make ends meet. People just don’t know what the impact will be.”

In these difficult economic times, it is more important than ever to ensure that our safety net is in place.  We cannot turn our backs on these families -- that is not who we are as a country.

When we reauthorized the Violence Against Women Act this year, we included provisions to specifically address the high rate of domestic and sexual violence experienced by Native American women.  Sadly, this shutdown disproportionately affects that already vulnerable population. Tribal lands rely heavily on Federal funding and one tribal domestic violence shelter in South Dakota has lost 90 percent of its funding. That shelter is at capacity and the loss of funds means victims are being turned away.  They are left with no place to turn. That is simply unconscionable.

The District of Columbia’s Sexual Assault Nurse’s program relies on Federal funds to provide necessary medical assistance to rape victims, including rape kits.  Absent emergency funding which will soon dry up unless we end this foolish shutdown, rape kit examinations will cease, leaving victims without the specialized care they deserve and the DNA evidence they need to prosecute and convict their rapists.  

Let’s end the uncertainty. Let’s end the shutdown. Let’s fulfill our promises to the people we are here to represent. The Continuing Resolution passed by the Senate – a resolution which marks a compromise with the House of Representatives – will end this stalemate.  The leadership in the House of Representatives should have the courage to bring it to a vote.

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