Meeting highlights victim services reorganization plan; input sought
DES MOINES — Attorney General Tom Miller is seeking public input on a proposed plan to reorganize Iowa’s victim services.
Through a series of open meetings around the state this month, including one at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 29 on the Indian Hills Community College campus in Ottumwa, the Crime Victim Assistance Division is seeking comments on a proposal to divide the state’s crime victim service areas into six regions.
Within these service areas, the state would fund regional emergency shelter programs, comprehensive domestic violence programs and comprehensive sexual assault programs. The state would award funding on a competitive basis to programs that would best provide victim services in a region.
“We’re proposing changing our crime victim assistance infrastructure across the state in a way that we think would provide the best possible support to our state’s crime victims, given the significant federal and state funding declines we now face,” said Miller.
Federal funding for Iowa’s crime victim assistance programs has declined by 18 percent, or nearly $1.5 million during the past three fiscal years, and state appropriations have declined by 7 percent, or nearly $214,000, during the same time period.
“Because of the significant funding declines, we have to make smart choices by coming up with new ways of delivering better and more cost-effective services for our state’s crime victims. If we don’t, we’ll have to make dramatic cuts to each and every crime victim assistance program and shelter across the state,” said Miller. “The changes we’re proposing will not compromise the availability of safe havens for domestic violence victims. I think the choice is clear.”
The funding cuts have already resulted in victim service program staff cuts across the state, reductions in the types of services the programs offer to crime victims and the shuttering of outreach offices. During the past 10 years, at least 11 programs have closed. The remaining programs must now service larger areas and face inequitable divisions of both programming and funding.
Miller noted the latest trends involving domestic violence shelters show diminishing use. According to statistics provided by the state’s domestic violence shelters, only 11 percent of Iowa’s domestic violence victims used a shelter in fiscal 2011. From fiscal 2009-2011, there was a 40 percent drop in crime victims using urban shelters, and a 17 percent decrease in the use of rural shelters. These shelters require significant resources to maintain around-the-clock availability.
Miller has committed additional financial resources to the victim service field to aid in the sustainability of programming, but the state’s crime victim assistance funding reserves are vulnerable. Miller said that repeated transfers cannot be a long-term solution without jeopardizing additional programs that benefit victims.
The financial outlook, coupled with the desire to ensure high-quality, efficient, comprehensive victim services in all areas of the state, prompted Miller to request the Crime Victim Assistance Division to evaluate current service provision methods and determine how the state can best serve victims in the future with available resources.
The Crime Victim Assistance Division developed a proposal to change the state’s crime victim services model, with input from the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, past and current executive directors of domestic violence and sexual assault programs around the state, and other experts in the field.
“Instead of focusing heavily on funding short-term shelters, this proposal focuses on permanent housing, food, education and employment,” said Miller. “We also must ensure that we provide safe, accessible sheltering for crime victims who really need it, and we’re all working hard on that. This plan would actually increase the number of crime victim advocates across the state, and we think that’s really important.”
Through a series of 13 public meetings, the Crime Victim Assistance Division is seeking input from the general public. The division also is seeking feedback from key stakeholders, including law enforcement representatives, state legislators, county and city public officials, medical and mental health care providers, victim witness coordinators, educators, and local and state grant funders.
Presenters will discuss how the state is currently delivering victim services, why change is necessary, specifics of the proposed plan for reorganization and how the plan will potentially affect local communities.
The Crime Victim Assistance Division also will receive public comments outside of the scheduled hearings.
For additional information or comments, contact Crime Victim Assistance Division Director Janelle Melohn or Victim Services Support Program Administrator Donna Phillips at 515-373-5044, email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.