WomenSafe award funding to continue transitional housing

ADDISON COUNTY — WomenSafe has received a promise of $300,000 in new federal funding for a program that helps improve the safety of local women and children, at a time when social service programs across Vermont are bracing for the impact of the federal government shutdown.
The leaders of WomenSafe confirmed on Tuesday the organization has received a promise of new federal funding for a program that since 2010 has delivered transitional housing and other support services to 60 women and 65 children escaping situations of domestic violence and/or sexual abuse.
At issue is a three-year, $300,000 grant through the U.S. Department Office Justice’s (DOJ) Office on Violence Against Women. WomenSafe will use these resources in association with other state and local organizations — such as Addison County Community Trust (ACCT), Pathways Vermont, Safe Space and the Vermont Department of Children & Families’ Economic Services Division — to serve people victimized by domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence and/or stalking.
“We are ecstatic,” WomenSafe Executive Director Naomi Smith said of the grant, an extension of an initial $250,000 allotment the organization received through the DOJ back in 2010.
“This will allow us to be able to keep the staff to be able to provide the services people have come to depend on to help them through traumatic times in their lives.”
The grant has allowed WomenSafe to maintain a staff of eight full-time workers, one of whom is a transitional housing coordinator who works with victims accessing services under the grant. Once temporary housing (usually an apartment) is located for the victim, the grant resources can be tapped to help pay for rent, transportation, counseling and other services until the client is financially and emotionally stable enough to become independent.
“The goal is to find an apartment that works for them,” Smith said.
It’s an assistance program that is flexible and can be tailored to clients’ individual needs, according to Smith. It has also served as an eye-opener for the community.
“It has educated landlords on domestic violence and safety concerns,” Smith said.
It has also helped victims and their children learn to become independent following often-traumatic circumstances.
“Most of the women (who have gone through the program) have done well and have been able to get along on their own,” Smith said.
Steve Sac, director of property management for ACCT, said the program has worked well.
“It’s been a great collaboration,” he said. “We have housed (WomenSafe clients) throughout the county in our housing. It’s so needed.”
While WomenSafe officials were pleased to have received confirmation of the grant, they aren’t sure when they will be able to access the money. That’s because as the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday, lawmakers had yet to resolve a federal budget/debt ceiling impasse that has resulted in a partial government shutdown. That shutdown has turned off the spigot to some key government programs, as well as various human services programs in Vermont and nationwide.
During a phone interview with the Independent on Tuesday, Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS) Secretary Doug Racine described some of the financial implications the federal debt crisis could have on the state.
“Anyone waiting for a check from the federal government is going to have a cash-flow problem, there’s no question about it,” Racine said.
Racine and his colleagues at AHS were busy determining the extent to which major programs like Women Infants and Children, 3SquaresVT (formerly known as Food Stamps) and Reach Up might be shortchanged if the federal funding is withheld.
“These are major safety net programs for low-income Vermonters; these programs are all threatened,” Racine said.
Vermont drew down as much federal funding as it could on Sept. 30, Racine noted.
“We are OK (with funding) through October, but if this isn’t resolved come Nov. 1, Gov. Shumlin is going to have some very tough decisions to make,” Racine said.
One of those decisions will be whether to use state funds to backfill what officials hope will only be a temporary absence of federal money for key programs.
“Vulnerable Vermonters are very much at risk,” Racine said of the consequences of the federal budget impasse. “There is no large piggybank out there for the state to use. Even if we wanted to backfill all the federal programs assuming we will get paid back, we have our own cash-flow issues.”
Racine, a former state senator and Vermont lieutenant governor, was candid in his criticism of Republican members of Congress who have stated they will not support a federal budget that does not contemplate major changes to the Affordable Care Act, also referred to as “Obamacare.” The ACA is currently law and has been affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I find it truly remarkable,” Racine said. “The (GOP) lost the legislative battle, their candidate lost the election … They fought every which way, and now the only thing they can do is threaten the economy and vulnerable Americans with total disaster unless they get their way, in spite of losing through the regular processes. It’s absurd.”
John Flowers is at [email protected].

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