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After being forced to close its West Sacramento office due to a County Victims Services grant being eliminated in January, Empower Yolo and a cohort of several other victims services organizations held a final rally to push state legislators and Gov. Gavin Newsom to address severe budget cuts in Victims of Crime Act funding.

Empower Yolo is a nonprofit organization that provides 24-hour crisis intervention and emergency shelter for people affected by domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, human trafficking and child abuse. Last year, the organization provided 170 survivors of abuse safe shelter for 10,413 bed nights and provided over 7,000 peer counseling and therapy sessions.

Lynnette Irlmeier, executive director for the organization, argued that these cuts would result in a reduction of over $800,000 for the nonprofit, which would lead to reduced hours and longer wait times for essential services “severely affecting our ability to support those in need.”

“Empower Yolo is the only shelter in Yolo County that’s specifically for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault, so that would have a big profound effect on Yolo County if we had to close our shelter,” Irlmeier said referring to the $200 million budget cut for victims’ services programs.

The Governor’s Office of Emergency Services implemented this 44.7% reduction in funding to crime victim services due to a reduction in federal funds from the Office of Victims of Crime.

However, state legislators seemed to have come to an agreement during the rally to approve $103 million in state funds to continue supporting these services.

“Even if the budget goes through, that’s still only $100 million,” Irlmeier emphasized. “We lost $200 million in the state of California so there will still be cuts no matter what. What we’re trying to do is to get at least some money to backfill those cuts.”

Any remaining gaps will need to be made up in donations, which she noted will be no easy feat.

Tina Rodriguez, founder of Beloved Survivors Trauma Recovery Center in Central California, was the first speaker during the rally. She stressed that “we cannot go 68 seconds in America without there being a victim of sexual assault.”

“A record-breaking number of children now visit grave sites for murder victims of domestic violence following the global pandemic,” she added. “This strategy as survivors ripping the bandages off our wounds every budget season to prove to you that we need to be a priority needs to change.”

Rodriguez was referring to the fact that this is the second year in a row she and other rally organizers have needed to visit the California State Capitol to advocate for their need of funds to continue operating effectively.

“Today, over 200 survivors organized to be here with unpaid time off and sharing rides to get here because if there’s one thing that you will know… as survivors, we have mastered down how to show up and you’re seeing that here.”

Assembly member Eloise Gómez Reyes, D – San Bernardino, was referred to by rally organizers as “a champion for victim services.” Reyes broke the news about the joint legislative budget package that includes over $100 million to backfill lost federal funds for victim services.

“Yes, the federal government is going to flush the money that’s available,” she asserted. “That doesn’t mean that we have to accept that. California can backfill what is going to be lost by the federal government.”

She noted that 820,000 survivors of violence were served in 2022 and that “if we lose the funding… they will not get the services they absolutely deserve and need.”

“We’ve got to backfill… because we cannot afford for any of our service providers to close their doors,” she remarked. “They close their doors and we may never, ever recover.”

“We closed our office in West Sacramento already and I just couldn’t imagine moving to another place, signing a new lease and hiring more staff for a program that I know would go away anyways,” she stressed. “The survivors in West Sacramento now have to travel to get services. You should be able to get services where you live, but that just isn’t possible right now.”

According to an annual state performance report from the Office of Victims of Crime, California received $266.7 million in federal funding in 2019. That dropped 42% last year to $153.8 million.

If state legislators and Newsom do approve the $103 million to continue funding the program, that would be a 62% reduction in funds from only five years ago, meaning organizations like Empower Yolo will continue to struggle to operate.

“We house over 200 women and children every year,” she continued. “People forget that there’s children in our shelters, they come in with the victim. How do you leave when there’s nowhere to go?”

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