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McLean County's only rape crisis center braces for unexpected loss of federal funding

YWCA McLean County sign
WGLT file photo

A shortfall in federal funding to the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault (ICASA) has left rape crisis centers across the state grappling with unanticipated gaps in their budgets.

That includes Bloomington-based Stepping Stones, which helps victims and family members of people in McLean County who've experienced sexual violence or abuse.

"It was shocking," executive director Jennifer Golliday said of the news. "I was in disbelief — just so uncertain about what the impacts were going to be, how we were going to move forward."

Like 31 other community-based rape crisis centers in Illinois, Stepping Stones is a member of the ICASA network. ICASA brings together resources for its members and distributes federal and state grant funding.

ICASA CEO Carrie Ward said the organization's leaders learned in February that funding provided via the federal Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) would not match its totals from previous years.

"We had, for the last several years, received around $18 million in funding. We learned, effective July 1 of this year, that money would be cut in half," Ward said.

Ward said the shortfall in funds was explained as a result of fewer prosecutions of, and settlement agreements related to, federal crimes — "usually white collar crimes." Fees and fines associated with those cases are routed to a crime victims fund; Ward said the shortage of funds coming in was coupled with a "period of time" where the government "diverted" dollars "that would have been deposited into the crime victim fund, to the national Treasury."

"Those two things combined resulted in fewer deposits to the Crime Victim Fund — or dollars that would have been earmarked for the Crime Victim Fund being diverted for other federal purposes," she said.

ICASA appealed to state legislators earlier this year, hoping the shortfall could be made up via the state's FY 24 budget. Ward said the organization requested a line item increase for sexual assault services in Illinois — a $12 million in crease — but didn't receive it.

"What we did get, at the very end, was an increase of $5 million through the Department of Human Services," she said. "Certainly that $5 million really helps us in that it blunts the impact of that $9.5 million cut — but ... $4.5 million is a lot of rape crisis center staff, and a lot of rape crisis center services, that will not exist in FY '24."

ICASA's budget for FY 24 is around $28 million.

The local impact

Stepping Stones at YWCA McLean County expects to be short around $335,000 as a result of the shrunken federal funding pool.

Golliday, its executive director, said last July — the start of the 2023 fiscal year — the 24/7, 365-day service had 14 staff members.

"Strategic moves" in the wake of the funding loss have included choosing to not fill some open positions and eliminate one other — meaning that, come July 1, Stepping Stones will have nine staff members.

"Our counseling team, our advocacy team, and our prevention education team — our four pillars are going to be operating at about 50% of what we need to be," Golliday said.

Golliday said the organization is aware of ICASA's $5 million grant, but it's not clear how that money will be allocated among the 31 member crisis centers. Ward said the overall reduction in funding would hit centers in different ways.

"For some centers, they will be able to pursue increased local funding. For some centers, they may be able to secure grants that will help them, at least in the short-term, continue to provide services at the level they've been providing them," Ward said.

Ward said ICASA surveyed its members earlier this year and learned some anticipated the closure of satellite offices with the loss of funding. Nearly 75% of the responding centers said if there wasn't already a waiting list for services, there will be after cuts; preexisting waiting lists will likely grow longer.

Golliday said Stepping Stones plans to apply for alternative grant funding in July, but noted that. with one source of funding now smaller, the competition for other sources is now greater. She added there will likely be a greater emphasis placed on local fundraising.

"We've had to take away a lot of the money that was to be provided to us by ICASA to buy things like program supplies, food for emergency services, things of that nature. That has been taken away to almost nothing," she said. "That's where support from the community is going to be vital for us to continue to provide everything we can to survivors."

Golliday said community members can help by donating clothing, food or gift cards to Stepping Stones. She added that volunteers are needed to staff the center's 24/7 hotline, as well.

A recently launched campaign aimed at making survivor-friendlychanges to the spaces Stepping Stones currently occupies will continue as planned. The goal is to raise around $950,000; the state has kicked in $200,000 in funding via a Human Services Capital Investment Grant.

YWCA Stepping Stones is a free McLean County resource for survivors of sexual assault and abuse and their loved ones available at 309-556-7000, 24 hours a day. 
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Lyndsay Jones is a reporter at WGLT. She joined the station in 2021. You can reach her at lljone3@ilstu.edu.
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