In summary

California should provide grant money from the Domestic Violence Assistance Program as an up-front payment available for immediate use.

By Pedro Nava and Janna Sidley, Special to Calmatters

Pedro Nava is the chair of the Little Hoover Commission, littlehoover@lhc.ca.gov. Janna Sidley is the chair of the Commission’s subcommittee on intimate partner violence, jannasidley@ca.rr.com. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

As Californians shelter in place to protect themselves and their communities from COVID-19, many also face a grave threat at home: an abusive partner.

Local law enforcement agencies, domestic violence shelters and nonprofit organizations alike are experiencing increased calls for help from those suffering physical or emotional abuse at home.

Tragically, the problem isn’t new. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, intimate partner violence, also referred to as domestic violence, was the leading cause of the murder of women, and resulted in 457 calls to California law enforcement agencies on an average day.  

Yet the organizations that serve survivors too often face financial challenges while they wait to receive state funding. The Little Hoover Commission, California’s independent government watchdog, is recommending a simple solution: push the money out the door faster.

As the chair of the commission and the chair of our subcommittee on intimate partner violence, we have been leading a months-long investigation into how California responds to these crimes. We expect the commission will have more recommendations in the months to come, but we have released our first report on the topic, “Intimate Partner Violence: Getting the Money to Those on the Front Line.”

Right now, about 100 shelter-based organizations across California receive funds through the Domestic Violence Assistance Program, the state’s largest effort to address intimate partner violence. Each organization receives about $500,000 per year, roughly $200,000 in state money and $300,000 in federal funding that is passed through state government.

But that program reimburses recipients for past expenses rather than providing grant money upfront. Receiving reimbursements can take about three months in the best of circumstances, and longer if things go wrong.

This extended wait for funding is unacceptable. It forces many shelters and other nonprofit organizations to take out loans while they wait for the state to pay up.  One service provider told the commission that it pays $900 per month in interest. Smaller organizations operating in marginalized communities sometimes do not apply for state grant money at all because they cannot afford to wait several months to get reimbursed. 

When these organizations struggle to provide services, survivors are at risk of continued abuse, threatening their lives or those of their children. 

California can and must do better. 

The state can’t alter federal rules that require a reimbursement process for money sent to us by Washington. But the governor and the Legislature can change the system for sending out state funding, and they should. Our commission is recommending that California provide the state-funded portion of Domestic Violence Assistance Program grant money as an up-front payment available for immediate use. 

Grant administrators told us that in their experience, misuse of state funds is extremely rare, and we believe that existing reporting and auditing requirements are sufficient to ensure that money paid in advance will be put to good use.

Simple yet significant, this change will ensure that the brave organizations serving survivors can focus on their extraordinary mission. No more loan applications. No more waiting months to receive the funding that is crucial to saving lives.  

This change would require action by the Legislature and governor. Current law allows service provider organizations to request up to 25 percent of the state portion of their grant in advance, but that’s the limit. If the state wants to distribute all its money up front, policymakers can easily weigh in. 

Intimate partner violence has a tragic impact on our state which, sadly, has only worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s time for the state to ensure that those on the front lines have the resources they need.

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Pedro Nava is the chair of the Little Hoover Commission, littlehoover@lhc.ca.gov. Janna Sidley is the chair of the Commission’s subcommittee on intimate partner violence, jannasidley@ca.rr.com. They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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