By George Altshuler
A single emergency domestic violence shelter exists in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, the county with the most domestic violence-related deaths in that state.
And if the Family Crisis Center loses the $225,000 it receives through the state in federal Violence Against Women Act grants, the shelter not only would have to lay off a significant number of staff members, but might have to close, Sophie Ford, the center’s executive director, said.
That possibility isn’t just theoretical.
President Donald Trump is reportedly considering proposing a federal budget that would feature significant cuts, including to the grant program the Family Crisis Center depends on.
Jewish organizations expressed concern over what the potential targeting of women, minorities and the environment could mean for services related to domestic violence, hate crime prevention, voting rights and climate change mitigation.
“Basically, they’re trying to balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable in our society, and it’s unconscionable,” said Jody Rabhan, the director of Washington operations for the New York City-based National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW).
While the cuts will not affect NCJW’s budget because it is an advocacy organization, Rabhan said that NCJW and its members are making calls to Capitol Hill, reaching out to members of Congress and coordinating with other organizations to fight the potential cuts.
The publication The Hill reported that the Trump administration aims to reduce the federal budget by a total of $10.5 trillion over 10 years, in part using a blueprint laid out by the conservative Heritage Foundation. The size of the federal budget is $3.65 trillion a year.
While media reports say that the Trump administration is just beginning to plan the budget, a Heritage Foundation report outlines cuts ranging from the Commerce Department to funding for the humanities. It argues that reducing the budget is necessary to improve the nation’s fiscal health.
“We have reached a critical point,” the report says. “The federal government has grown to an unprecedented size, has expanded its scope to virtually every part of the economy, and is on a dangerous fiscal trajectory.”
Among potential cuts, the report calls for eliminating $1.5 billion a year in grants for the Justice Department and cutting its Civil Rights Division by a third.
Michael Lieberman, Washington counsel for the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said he is most worried that these cuts to the Justice Department would affect the department’s work around hate crimes, religious discrimination, voting rights and policing. He pointed to Justice Department initiatives to improve police practices, which include strengthening the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and other efforts stemming from the Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.
Decreasing the ability of the Justice Department to enforce laws around hate crime prevention would be “a big step backwards,” Lieberman said, after what he called “trailblazing work” by the Obama administration.
Lieberman explained that through three training programs, including its “Law Enforcement and Society: Lessons of the Holocaust” program, the ADL trains more law enforcement officers than any other nonprofit. He said budget cuts would not affect these programs, but if the Justice Department cuts its implicit bias training, the ADL would try to fill this gap and would have “more work to do.”
He said that presidents’ budgets are important in making policy, but that they are “rarely the final word on budgeting and funding.”
“I am sure that ADL and a broad coalition of religious, civil rights and education groups would organize and push back if we were confronted with deep cuts in the civil rights enforcement, training, outreach or mediation budget,” he said.
The Hill also reported that the Trump administration is proposing major cutbacks to agencies that research and mitigate climate change. This includes the possibility of eliminating the office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, and of Fossil Energy, as well as State Department funding for the Paris Climate Change Agreement.
Nigel Savage, president and CEO of the New York-based Jewish environmental organization Hazon, said these cuts could have “human consequences” that would be “scary.”
“It has been rumored that the government might abolish the Office of Fossil Energy, which does vital work to reduce CO2 emissions, and there seems to be a general move to prevent the [Environmental Protection Agency] from doing its work,” Savage said. “It is critical that the Jewish community, that all faith communities, and that liberals and conservatives say clearly to their elected representatives that actions like these endanger America and should be strongly opposed.”
Savage is encouraging rabbis around the country to speak out about environmental issues on the first Shabbat after Passover, which coincides with the 50th Earth Day in the United States, and the Shabbat after that, when a “People’s Climate March” will take place in Washington.
Organizations contacted voiced concerns about potential cuts to the Violence Against Women Act grants program, which, according to the Justice Department website, funds programs “designed to develop the nation’s capacity to reduce domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking by strengthening services to victims and holding offenders accountable.”
The Washington, D.C.-based Jewish Women International (JWI) last year received a three-year $330,094 grant through this program to “engage Jewish fraternity men on college campuses as allies to end sexual assault and dating abuse,” according to a JWI spokesperson.
Lori Weinstein, the CEO and executive director of the organization, said that she is irate that the Trump administration is considering cuts to Violence Against Women Act programming, which she said is already underfunded.
A victims hotline that has received millions of calls, support for victims of elder abuse, training for police and funding for criminal prosecution all could be threatened if they lose that federal support, she said. The breadth of initiatives funded through the act is considerable, she said, calling it “a wrap-around, holistic” program that is “a model for the country.”
President Bill Clinton signed the Violence Against Women Act into law in 1994 with bipartisan support. In addition to providing funding for the programming Weinstein described, the act put in place federal laws concerning sexual assault. It was reauthorized every five years with bipartisan support until 2012, when the legislation encountered opposition from Republicans but was nevertheless passed into law again in 2013.
Rabhan of the National Council of Jewish Women said that “any cuts to these very lean programs will put those experiencing sexual assault and domestic violence in danger.”
Rabhan emphasized that the budget of the entity that administers the grants, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women, which administers the grants, pales in comparison to the size of the $3.65 trillion federal budget. The office’s 2017 budget was $480 million.
Elissa Malter Schwartz, executive director of Rockville’s Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse, said that her organization does not receive funding through the Violence Against Women Act, but that “the loss of these funds and protections would be devastating to our clients and to our nation’s continuums of care [around] domestic violence and sexual violence.”
Weinstein, Schwartz and Rabhan said their organizations would mobilize to oppose any budget cuts to the Violence Against Women Act grants program.
“There will be a big fight if something as important and vulnerable ends up on the chopping block of this administration,” Weinstein said.
George Altshuler is a staff writer for Washington Jewish Week, an affiliated publication of the Jewish Exponent.