Rainbow House Feels the Pain of the Federal Shutdown

Monday, October 21, 2013

Federal-shutdown-will-not-disrupt-medicare-paymentsIllinois-based Rainbow House, which provides critical services to victims of domestic violence, was impacted hard by the shutdown of the federal government and continues to be impacted even after the shutdown was lifted. Kathleen Higgins, Executive Director of Rainbow House, answered a few questions via email to highlight the challenges created by the shutdown. This Q&A supplements a Huffington Post article written by Donors Forum's President and CEO Valerie S. Lies about the impact of the shutdown on nonprofits in Illinois. A link to the article will be included here when it is posted.

What has been the impact of the shutdown on your staff and your ability to deliver services?

Telling my staff that their October 15 paychecks would possibly be their last until the government resolved its problems was the single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do as a director. I’m lucky to have an extremely dedicated team, and although they had concerns for their personal finances none of them was willing to entertain the idea of being furloughed; we all knew how traumatic an abrupt cut to services would be for a group of women and children already suffering from trauma and PTSD. Other domestic violence agencies are struggling too. We know this by the increased number of calls from victims desperate for shelter and other services. This work is not easy, and the added stress on my staff has me worried for their health and the possibility of burn out. Long story short: we are all scared, for ourselves and for our clients.

Can you explain a little bit about the trickle effect on your funding sources?

Domestic Violence funding comes from multiple streams. Federal funds move down to the state of Illinois through the Justice System (Victims of Crime funding), through several different federal agencies in the form of grants, and then the state of Illinois also receives funding through Title XX and as match funding for TANF. Most of our sister agencies manage a network of many state and federal grants, each requiring their own set of reporting. Even though most of our funding passes through to us from the State of Illinois, the state elected to stop all payments during the shutdown. Our 'catch 22' is maintaining programs at a level that will allow us to spend out the grants once the money starts flowing again.

Now that the shutdown is over, what indications are you getting that your funding will be restored?

We have not received any notices or communications as of the end of day today, Oct. 17, 2013.

If you had the chance to make a statement to Congress about the impact of the shutdown what would it be?

We are required to provide domestic violence services 24 hours a day 365 days a year. We are not a “social service,” rather we are in the business of crisis management and homicide prevention. The $25 billion dollars that was lost as a result of this shutdown could have created a national domestic violence infrastructure that would have met the needs of all future victims AND brought prevention programming to a scale that would have had a real impact on ending domestic violence. Shame on the government for wasting that opportunity.