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Federal funding cuts endanger domestic violence survivors

Federal funding cuts endanger domestic violence survivors

The effects of reduced federal funding on nonprofits that assist survivors of domestic violence continue to reverberate across the region, with another one of the state’s largest such organizations now sounding the alarm. 

“We have been managing the reduction of Victims of Crime Act funding for a few years now,” said Suzanne Saucier, manager of Legal Aid NC’s offices in Western North Carolina, in a press release dated Jan. 10. “We definitely need more funding. There are folks in dire need of legal representation that we’re forced to turn away.”

Legal Aid provides attorney services for those who can’t afford them, working on protective orders, representing parents in child custody disputes and helping grandparents with guardianship. The group also works to stop illegal evictions, to stop foreclosures, to prevent housing discrimination, to halt improper termination of housing subsidies and to assist disaster victims.

Saucier said that in 2023, Legal Aid, which provides free legal services in all 100 North Carolina counties, performed services for clients in 134 separate domestic violence cases in Haywood County alone. Most or all of these people cannot afford legal services on their own, which leaves them vulnerable or outmatched in a courtroom.

Last month, The Smoky Mountain News reported on reduced funding for the Victims of Crime Act of 1984 (VOCA), which established the Crime Victims Fund (CVF), administered by the Department of Justice. Funding for VOCA comes not from taxpayers, but instead through fines and forfeitures collected from losing parties in federal cases.

Those fines and forfeitures, however, have been declining in recent years, leading to reduced contributions to the CVF since at least 2019. Policy groups say the decline in funding is due to changing prosecutorial strategies and isn’t a partisan issue. This year, the CVF is capped at $1.2 billion, a reduction of more than 70% since 2018’s cap of $4.4 billion.

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Ultimately, Congress has the power to fully fund VOCA and indeed tried to make things right in 2021 with the “VOCA Fix” act; however, those funds don’t begin to make up for the cuts incurred over the past four years.

Rep. Chuck Edwards (R-Henderson) did not address the cuts in his Jan. 13 Primary Election debate (see DEBATE, page 6) and has not responded to interview requests from The Smoky Mountain News regarding this issue, dating back to December.

The cuts have and will continue to impact nearly every legal or social services provider in the state.

On Dec. 20, 2023, Jim Barrett, executive director of Pisgah Legal Services told SMN that the cuts are “serious” because they threaten the nonprofit infrastructure that helps people get away from domestic violence and child abuse.

“People who are being abused kind of get a bad rap because they often have to go back, over and over, to the abuser for economic reasons or custody reasons,” Barrett said. “If you want to break the cycle of abuse, you need to make legal services available to people who can’t afford a lawyer.”

Barrett said his organization’s shortfall is at least $1 million and affects more than 1,900 women and children. Last year, Pisgah Legal served more than 21,000 people, more than a third of them involved with child abuse, child custody or domestic violence.

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Savannah Anders, executive director of KARE (Kids Advocacy Resource Effort) of Haywood County told SMN that her organization, which for 30 years has focused on child abuse, exploitation and neglect, has also experienced budget cuts — amid rising caseloads.

Legal Aid, Pisgah Legal and KARE all accept donations in a variety of forms, including direct donations, gifts of stock or portions of Individual Retirement Accounts. To learn how you can help, visit, or

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