The Battered Women’s Shelter of Summit and Medina Counties has stopped buying supplies and suspended employee training.

The shelter is relying on goods from the food bank for the meals it serves — and is repeating its offerings more than usual.

These are among the short-term steps the Akron-based agency has taken so far in response to the federal government shutdown that is now in its 27th day. The shelter gets about 70 percent of its funding from federal agencies.

“We’re looking at every single expense line item,” said Terri Heckman, the longtime head of the Battered Women’s Shelter. “Is it mandatory or is it nice to have and we have to cut it?”

The shelter is among numerous nonprofits nationwide that receive significant federal funding and have been negatively impacted by the shutdown or are concerned they may be. Some of these agencies, including the shelter, are relying on reserve funds and may have to take more drastic steps, depending on how long the shutdown continues.

“It’s almost like the bank scene in ‘It’s a Wonderful Life,’ ” Heckman said. “How much do you need to make it through?”

Statewide concerns

Five groups that represent advocate agencies across Ohio sent a letter to Sens. Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman this week expressing concerns about the effect the shutdown is having on the agencies.

The Ohio Victim Witness Association, Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Assault, Ohio Domestic Violence Network, Ohio Network of Children’s Advocacy Centers and Ohio Crime Victim Justice Center said many of the agencies receive federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) funding that is funneled through the Ohio Attorney General’s Office. They said the attorney general’s office has indicated grant reimbursements will be stopped for now because of the shutdown. Without this funding, some are limiting services or furloughing or laying off employees

“Without these services in place, we are placing the victims we work with in danger once again,” the agencies said. “We are contributing to their re-victimization and ignoring their needs.”

The agencies said small nonprofits in rural areas are most at risk of having to close their doors until the funding resumes. When the shutdown ends, the agencies said, the nonprofits will continue to be impacted because the backlog of reimbursements will take several weeks to rectify.

Brian Broadbent, president and CEO of the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, said the shutdown is hurting nonprofits through a loss of funding, delay of contracts and a change in how funds are distributed. He said funds may come from the state or county.

“It all comes down to cash flow,” said Broadbent, whose organization has offices in Cleveland and Akron. “If the shutdown continues, some organizations may have to scramble to get emergency funds, which may include loans.”

VOCA funding

Many Akron-area agencies have requested VOCA funds for January and are waiting to hear if they get it.

Victim Assistance, which gets 77 percent of its revenue from government grants, received VOCA funding in December and has put in for January funding.

The shutdown comes at a difficult time for Victim Assistance because it recently moved to a new location in downtown Akron and had to dip into the agency’s trust fund to help cover moving expenses. If the agency doesn’t receive its federal funding and has to dip into the trust fund again, it will find itself in a pinch, Executive Director Leanne Graham said.

“That’s not going to sustain us until the unknown,” Graham said. “All we can do is really focus on today and look at our priorities — pay the staff and keep the lights on.”

Graham said she’s looking for small ways to save money, such as forgoing newly sworn-in Gov. Mike DeWine’s luncheon speech Thursday at the Akron Roundtable that she and another staffer normally attend. Tickets are $25 each.

The agency is focusing on selling tickets and getting sponsorships to its annual Mardi Gras fundraiser March 2.

“That can be used to pay staff if we don’t get our January payment,” Graham said.

Graham said she and her employees will examine the agency’s $1.5 million budget to find potential ways to save.

The Battered Women’s Shelter has been holding weekly meetings to discuss its $4.6 million budget. The agency hasn’t received its VOCA reimbursement for December and has requested, but isn’t sure if it will get, its grant funding for January. The agency dipped into its reserves, Heckman said.

The shelter also receives money from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for rent for families who have left the shelter and are living in apartments. Heckman said she has heard from clients concerned about whether this assistance will continue.

Heckman, however, said the agency’s clients and employees shouldn’t panic because it will continue putting a priority on services and salaries. She added that this difficult time means the agency needs help from its supporters more than ever.

Heckman said the agency’s reserves would only be enough to cover its expenses until March. If the shutdown lasts that long, she said the shelter may have to consider seeking a loan, furloughing staff or having employees work at three-fourths their salaries temporarily.

Akron Children’s Hospital receives $600,000 in Victims of Crime Act funding for its CARE Center, Child Advocacy Center and emergency departments in Akron and Boardman. The funds are used for employees who assist child abuse victims. The hospital recently applied to be reimbursed for its December expenses.

“Unless the federal government shutdown continues for months, the impact here should not be as pronounced as it may be for smaller nonprofit organizations,” said Shelley Walker, the hospital’s director of social work. “These critical services will still be provided.”

The Summit County Prosecutor’s Office, which has advocates who assist victims in court, has so far experienced no interruption in its VOCA funding.

Rahab Ministries, an Akron agency that supports female victims of sex trafficking, is in a different situation from other local agencies. The agency was approved for $1.3 million in VOCA funding — the first it has ever gotten — this year, with the first installment expected this month. The agency plans to use the funds to help pay for 20 staff at a safehouse for girls set to open this summer.

“We’re trying to determine if this affects our timeline,” said Suzanne Lewis-Johnson, a former FBI agent heading the agency.

 

Beacon Journal reporters Brandon Bounds, Katie Byard and Betty Lin-Fisher contributed to this report. Stephanie Warsmith can be reached at 330-996-3705, swarsmith@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter: @swarsmithabj.