KYUK: Y-K Delta Victims Shelters Relieved After Federal Funding Is Restored

Victim advocacy centers in the region are breathing a sigh of relief after President Joe Biden signed the VOCA Fix Act on July 22. The act will reverse severe federal funding cuts sustained by shelters and advocacy centers earlier this year. 

In April, the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta’s two largest victim advocacy centers received news that they called devastating. Bethel’s Tundra Women’s Coalition and the Emmonak Women’s Shelter learned that they would lose about a third of their federal funding from the Victims of Crimes Act, known as VOCA. It was the most recent cut to the act following years of dwindling allocations. 

Eileen Arnold, executive director of the Tundra Women’s Coalition, said that with the cuts, her organization would have to shut down the Children’s Advocacy Center, the overnight shelter, or make cuts to all their services.

“I spent so many stressful days, nights, months worrying about what that would mean, what the impact on victims and survivors would be on our staff and our agency,” Arnold said.

Arnold’s organization and many other shelters receive a large portion of their funding from the Victims of Crimes Act. VOCA takes money from federal criminal fines and other sources and redistributes it to victims and survivors of crime. 

The U.S. Senate sought to restore the funding through a bill called the VOCA Fix Act that would reverse the funding cuts and provide a long-term funding solution for shelters. Sen. Lisa Murkowski was an early co-sponsor. Fellow senator Dan Sullivan also signed on. 

“We know that the story in Alaska is not a good one when it comes to domestic violence, child sexual assault, and just the levels of abuse,” Murkowski said in an interview with KYUK. “So having these shelters, having provisions for victims services is absolutely key.”

The VOCA Fix Act passed the U.S. Senate with a 100 to 0 unanimous vote. 

“I had so much relief when it passed and so much gratitude to everybody who took part in that passing, because there were a lot of people from our community who helped that out,” Arnold said.

Arnold said that she heard that more than 100 people from the Y-K Delta contacted their federal and state representatives telling them how important shelters like Tundra Women’s Coalition are to the community. The advocacy worked, and Arnold said that it serves as an example of the power of speaking up to influence lawmakers. 

“I think it's important to know that legislators listen,” Arnold said. “And that if a community makes something important and a priority, then, you know, the way that our democracy works is that legislators will, will do something about it.” 

The VOCA Fix Act won’t fix the funding issue immediately. It’ll take a few years for the full amount of federal money to start flowing to shelters again. In the meantime, Arnold said that the State of Alaska has stepped in. The state will fill that funding gap until the VOCA Fix Act takes effect and provides a long-term solution.

By:  Greg Kim
Source: KYUK