Last week, Gov. Paul LePage used his platform for a good cause: He urged men to get more involved in ending domestic violence. Standing at the head of his Cabinet room Wednesday, he said, “Domestic violence has to stop. We just need to stop it. The men in this room are the start.”
He read a proclamation marking October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month. And he announced he will direct $10,000 from a contingency fund to help pay for the completion of the Maine Murder Victims’ Memorial in Augusta, an effort of the Maine Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children. On average, about half the murders each year are related to domestic violence.
The irony of course is that while Oct. 1 marked the first day of a month promoting the eradication of domestic violence, it was also the first day of a partial shutdown of the federal government. If it lasts longer, the shutdown will begin to directly harm providers who support and shelter victims.
Domestic and sexual violence agencies use their available funding to help victims and are then regularly reimbursed by the federal government. Some federal funding sources closed Sept. 30. The Office on Violence Against Women was the last to close; it marked Friday as the last day agencies could draw down funding. The local centers, therefore, may have a couple weeks to run on reserves before they will begin to stop services, close shelters and lay off staff.
Funding also expired Sept. 30 for programs that provide economic stability to victims, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Child Care and Development Fund. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services is currently analyzing whether it has the resources to keep core domestic and sexual violence response services open if the shutdown extends.
There’s no doubt the public wants the shutdown to end. Employees are being furloughed; Acadia National Park’s closure is causing heartaches and headaches. Most of all, though, the shutdown will harm vulnerable and poor victims, families and communities if it continues.
The shutdown, which has the potential to harm lives, was waged over a law with provisions meant specifically to help the poor and victims of domestic and sexual violence. For instance, the Affordable Care Act’s Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program will provide $1.5 billion over five years to states to improve the health and development of at-risk children. Grantees must demonstrate improvement in specific areas, including the prevention of child abuse and neglect, a reduction in domestic violence and growth in economic self-sufficiency.
But using a shutdown to negotiate a budget isn’t based on informed logic, right? It’s based in part on the fact that an emboldened few in Congress got elected because they were propped up by gerrymandered districts. It’s based on the fact that the GOP doesn’t want to risk having Obamacare succeed. The people the national GOP represents — largely white, older — are not the people the ACA will help the most. Where will the accountability come from?
Instead of holding a session on Saturday to vote on piecemeal spending bills, Congress should have gone home. With members’ staff not working because of the shutdown, the public can’t get through. Congressmen and women need to hear from the people they represent, so they can be held accountable. The public needs to make the urgency real.
Even the reddest districts have constituents who desperately want health reform to work. They have constituents harmed by the shutdown and who want services for the vulnerable, such as domestic and sexual violence victims, to continue. They want the idiocy to stop. As with violence, you are the start.