- Associated Press - Wednesday, April 12, 2017

DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) - Money used on services for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Iowa would be reduced under a budget bill proposed Wednesday by Republicans, who argue federal funding will shield victims from the cuts aimed at people who staff the services.

A GOP-led budget committee approved spending about $1.4 million less on victim assistance grants distributed through the Iowa Attorney General’s office. The spending bill, one of several, is expected to have more procedural votes over several days as lawmakers try to finalize the roughly $7.2 billion state budget and wrap up the session.

The roughly $6.7 million budget for the grants had already been reduced by about $260,000 during mid-year budget cuts.

Two advocacy groups - the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault and the Iowa Coalition Against Domestic Violence - said the cuts would hurt victims by reducing staffing, which effectively would diminish the capacity for different entities to provide services.

“This kind of significant cut to victim service agencies will create immediate and harmful consequences for survivors,” said Beth Barnhill, executive director for IowaCASA, in a statement.

Barnhill said rural offices could be shut down, “leaving potentially 10,000 survivors without crisis and advocacy services.”

Republican Rep. Gary Worthan, chairman of the committee that approved the cut, said the overall budget for victim assistance grants had grown to a roughly $30 million budget over the years because of federal money. He said the bulk of state funding goes to administrative costs, and nearly 30 people were staffing those services.

“That looked top-heavy to us and so we’re cutting the administrative side of it, but there shouldn’t be a lot of difference seen out on the ground,” he said.

Officials at ICADV, the domestic violence prevention group, said less staff threatens emergency services, crisis helplines and counseling. It would also limit contact with victims and place more burdens on local officials like law enforcement.

The cuts are in the justice budget, which would get about $559 million in the spending year that goes into effect in July. That’s about $7.6 million less than what was allotted at the start of the current budget year. The budget bill also reduces spending for the Attorney General’s office and the Iowa Department of Corrections.

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