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‘It’s a matter of life or death.’ Shutdown could cut into Bradenton domestic violence center

With approximately 40 percent of its employees being federally funded, a local organization that helps those affected by domestic violence is taking a look at how to survive until the government shutdown ends.

HOPE Family Services operates the only state-certified domestic violence shelter in Manatee County. Sixteen of its 40 employees are either partially or fully funded by federal monies received by the organization.

At this point, the organization is paying those employees with “no expectation of reimbursement,” HOPE Family Services CEO Laurel Lynch said.

The shutdown has brought a halt to reimbursements. Should the shutdown continue, federally funded staff members would be furloughed until the cash flow is restored.

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Officials at HOPE Family Services, which runs a domestic violence shelter in Manatee County, say they have enough reserve funds to operate for up to four months without federal reimbursements. Tiffany Tompkins ttompkins@bradenton.com

With the government shutdown reaching its 25th day Tuesday, concern is growing over how long HOPE Family Services will be able to provide all the services it does for those affected by domestic violence, including a 24-hour helpline, emergency safe shelter, advocacy, counseling for adults and children, a prevention program and a thrift store.

Lynch said, “As we speak, there is no impact today,” but the organization can only operate at this capacity for so long, she said.

Lynch asked the organization’s CFO to analyze how long they can afford to operate at capacity without reimbursement from the federal government.

“Thanks to the support of the community for so many years, we’re not rich but we have enough reserves for three to three-and-a-half months, possibly four,” Lynch said.

But after more than three months without incoming reimbursements from the federal government, Lynch said HOPE Family Services would have to begin cutting back its services to just its core mission.

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Laurel Lynch, HOPE Family Services

Reimbursements take time. HOPE Family Services has been reimbursed by the federal government for its services through October, according to Lynch. The organization recently filed reimbursement paperwork for December and is awaiting refunds for November.

“The fact is, we’re not getting it, at least today, is what we’ve got to plan for,” Lynch said.

Should HOPE Family Services not receive the reimbursements after four months, Lynch said cutbacks could begin. Shelter, shelter staff 24 hours a day and the helpline would remain, but other organization functions— such as outreach efforts, advocates who specialize in things such as job training and attorneys — likely would be cut.

“We’re just going to have to scale back to the very basics,” Lynch said.

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Those who receive services through HOPE would see a difference if the shutdown and lack of reimbursements continue.

“They would see a difference in the future if this really does become a prolonged issue because people who call us for things like counseling may have to wait on a waiting list until we’re back to fully functioning,” Lynch said.

In the meantime, Lynch said she has issued a memo to employees asking for no overtime without prior approval. She said HOPE also is starting to cut back on hours for shelter staff.

In fiscal year 2017-2018, HOPE helped 2,403 individuals.

HOPE Family Services is not the only organization that may be forced to cut back on what it can provide.

In the next month, five state-certified domestic violence shelters are looking at significantly decreasing services or even closing their doors if the shutdown doesn’t come to an end, said Scott Howell, vice president of internal and external affairs for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

In two months, that number would increase to 18 shelters.

Some of those shelters, Howell said, are in areas of already under-served populations and helped more than 26,000 individuals last fiscal year.

“That’s a place where services are scarce to begin with,” Howell said.

The centers rely on a combination of federal, state and private funds. So while some centers such as HOPE Family Services are able to operate off money saved in reserves, not all centers have a large private donation base to do the same, Howell said.

“From our standpoint, it’s a humanitarian crisis,” Howell said. “It’s a public safety crisis.”

According to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s 2017 Uniform Crime Report, there were 162 domestic violence-related murders in Florida and 18 domestic violence-related manslaughter deaths. There were 90 domestic violence-related murders in the first half of 2018.

“For some people, it’s a matter of life or death,” Howell said. “Anyone has the right to live free of violence and abuse, and we’re trying to get people to a place where they can live without violence and abuse.”

Florida’s 42 domestic violence centers helped 15,937 survivors and their children by providing 669,785 nights in emergency shelter, according to the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

And with recent news of a murder-suicide under investigation in Manatee County — where a man is believed to have shot and killed his wife, then himself — Lynch said services such as those that HOPE Family Services offers are needed.

“It’s time for more services, not fewer,” Lynch said.

A spokeswoman for Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center (SPARCC), which runs a domestic violence shelter in Sarasota County, said the shutdown is not currently affecting its operations.

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