Will Iowa crime victims get the support they need?

The legislative session may be winding down, but the fight over budget priorities is still going strong.

One of those fights concerns the resources and support systems for victims of crime, and how those groups who handle that are funded.

Currently, the state-level funding is running out. But other sources aren’t so secure, either, especially after COVID-19.

Rep. Marti Anderson has worked in victim advocacy for her whole career, and she said the state funding for victim programs has been at the same level—$5 million—since 2017, even as programming and the services offered have developed and broadened.

“Five million dollars doesn’t do it,” Anderson said in a recent Moral Mondays Iowa meeting. “If we got another $1.7 million, we’d be up to where we were in 2016. I don’t think that’s enough. I frankly, am pretty sure that 2.5 million isn’t enough but you have to be reasonable I guess.”

She said she would push for an amendment to the budget that added $2.5 million for victim services, but she’s sure it won’t be adopted.

Having the line-item be somewhere close to 5 percent of the funding for all of the programs that serve offenders would be more sufficient, Anderson said.

There are other forms of funding, including federal, private and volunteer funds, but those are also running low, especially because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“State funds are really the foundation, like the foundation of a house,” said Laura Hessburg, the public policy director at the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence, at the Moral Mondays Iowa meeting.

She said those state funds provide for things like staff and operation support, which allows them to build and sustain their advocacy work.

And victim services vary widely, and often depend on the crime. Hessburg listed services like shelters, hotlines, help in the courtroom or making police reports, funeral arrangements and assistance during investigations.

Hessburg’s organization isn’t the only one doing this work, though. Luana Nelson-Brown, the executive director of Iowa Coalition for Collective Change also spoke.

She focused on services for victims of homicide and violent crimes and said the lack of federal funding is especially hard for that work because it doesn’t get specific appropriations in the state budget. Instead, Nelson-Brown said they rely on the federal grant money, private funds, communities and volunteers.

And COVID dented those funds.

“We’re still seeing that we’re on track to probably see more homicides this year than we did last year,” she said. “That same thing happened in 2020…So these services are critical. And they’re already bare-bones.”

But, the advocates said, there’s still time to reach out to legislators to increase the appropriation for victim services in the budget.

Anderson recommended people contact their legislators, but she also suggested Sen. Whitver and Reps. Windschittel, Kerr and Grassley.

“Right now, it’s up to all of us to support crime victims and that is the message. We need more money to support crime victims,” Hessburg said. 

Copy Link Link was copied