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Update on the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), the impact of the shutdown, and next steps  

Thursday, January 10th, 2019

President Barack Obama signs the VAWA Reauthorization bill into law in 2013. Rosie Hidalgo stands to his left, in pink.

By Rosie Hidalgo, Senior Director of Public Policy, Casa de Esperanza: National Latin@ Network

January 10, 2019

The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”) was first enacted in 1994 and has been reauthorized three times since then. It is one of the key pieces of federal legislation dedicated to improving a coordinated community response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking; enhancing access to services and support for survivors; and improving prevention efforts. Many local, state, tribal, and national agencies and organizations receive and depend on VAWA funding to provide critical services and support.

What is the current status of VAWA?

There are two separate issues at play. The first is the authorization of the VAWA grant programs (which normally are authorized by statute for a 5-year period). The second is the appropriation of funds (which is done on an annual basis when Congress passes the federal budget for the new fiscal year and allocates funding to the different federal agencies and to specific programs administered by each agency).

VAWA grant programs are currently unauthorized. The VAWA legislation that was passed in 2013 reauthorized VAWA grant programs for a five-year period that ended on Sept. 30th, 2018.  Congress subsequently included a provision that provided a limited extension of VAWA authorization when Congress passed two continuing resolutions that extended federal funding for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other federal agencies until December 21, 2018.

However, when Congress subsequently failed to pass an appropriations bill for the DOJ and various other federal agencies for the remainder of the 2019 Fiscal Year, and also did not pass another short-term continuing resolution in the interim, this resulted in the current partial federal government shutdown that began on December 22nd. In addition, the limited extension of the VAWA reauthorization that had been part of the earlier continuing resolutions also lapsed. As a result, VAWA grant programs currently are unauthorized. Additionally, DOJ does not currently have funds appropriated for the remainder of Fiscal Year 2019 until new legislation is enacted to fund the DOJ, thus putting continued funding of VAWA grant programs at risk.

Does this mean that VAWA has “expired”?

As with other laws, only the grant programs of VAWA expire. The underlying law and all the provisions that are not tied to specific funding levels do not expire. All legal protections for victims and survivors continue, including protections for immigrant survivors (e.g. the VAWA self-petition, U visa, and T visa) and including protections in federally subsidized housing, special tribal criminal jurisdiction, and VAWA’s non-discrimination provisions, among others. Grant conditions that protect survivor confidentiality and safety also remain intact. Also, as with other laws, appropriators can continue to fund VAWA grant programs even if VAWA reauthorization has yet to be enacted. Nonetheless, it is critical that Congress continue to work to pass a bipartisan VAWA reauthorization bill as soon as possible with enhancements recommended from the field to improve access to justice and safety.

What is the impact of the current partial federal government shutdown on programs that receive VAWA funding?

The DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), which administers the bulk of VAWA funds, has advised recipients of VAWA funding that OVW has enough money at this point to remain operational until at least January 18th. Grantees can also draw down funds for up to 10 days (meaning that on the 18th they could draw down funds to cover expenditures up until January 28th).  If the partial government shutdown extends beyond January 28th, this could potentially impact access to VAWA funds, unless DOJ is able to come up with additional funds to keep OVW operational. It is important to note that there are some VAWA programs and services that are not administered through the Department of Justice that have been funded for Fiscal Year 2019 in already-passed appropriations bills such as some programs funded through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

If the government shutdown ends and funds are appropriated for the U.S. Department of Justice, can VAWA funding continue to be distributed even if the VAWA legislation has not been reauthorized?

Yes, it is possible and likely, as it has happened before. The Appropriations Committees decide how much money federal programs actually receive. Appropriators frequently fund programs whose legislation has yet to be reauthorized. For example, VAWA grant programs were unauthorized when it last expired in 2010 until it was finally reauthorized in 2013. Nonetheless, due to significant advocacy and support for VAWA, the appropriators still allocated funding for the VAWA grant programs during that time while Congress worked to eventually pass bipartisan legislation to reauthorize and improve VAWA. Again, it is important to remember that only grant programs need to be authorized. The rest of VAWA does not “expire,” though any VAWA provisions could potentially be changed or new provisions could be added in a new VAWA reauthorization bill.

What are the next steps in efforts to reauthorize VAWA?

The Steering Committee of the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence (NTF), of which Casa de Esperanza National Latin@ Network is a member, has been working for the past two years to gather the input from the domestic violence and sexual assault fields and share information and recommendations with members of Congress from both parties in efforts to develop a comprehensive VAWA reauthorization bill that includes vital but modest enhancements and targeted fixes designed to garner bipartisan support.

Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, introduced a bill last year in the House of Representatives, H.R.6545, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2018, that included the recommendations of the NTF. Unfortunately, instead of taking meaningful action and passing a VAWA reauthorization bill with moderate enhancements, the last Congress chose instead to put off reauthorizing VAWA and allowed VAWA’s authorization to expire on December 21.

Legislation that was previously introduced but that was not enacted during the last session of Congress can no longer be considered in the new session of Congress (which began on January 3, 2019). As a result, a new VAWA bill needs to be introduced in this session of Congress. The NTF, comprised of thousands of advocates and organizations around the country committed to improving our nation’s response to domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking, will continue to advance efforts to work with Congress to introduce and pass bipartisan VAWA reauthorization legislation with important improvements to address the critical needs of victims and survivors and improve prevention efforts. The voices and advocacy of individuals and organizations are very important to continue to educate members of Congress about the imperative of reauthorizing an improved VAWA and appropriating the necessary funds for VAWA.

For more information, contact Rosie Hidalgo, Senior Director of Public Policy at Casa de Esperanza, National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, at rhidalgo@casadeesperanza.org

 

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