By Regina Varolli
Wednesday, January 6, 2010
Three federal agencies control about $3 billion dollars in Recovery Act funding, some portion of which should go to transitional housing for victims of domestic violence. Poor coordination makes it hard to know who is getting how much despite transparency requirements.
(WOMENSENEWS)--As part of the Obama administration's federal stimulus program, the Justice Department's Office of Violence Against Women is passing along $43 million to states and nonprofits to help them fund transitional housing for people trying to escape domestic violence.
The Web site of the Office of Violence Against Women, or OVW, makes it easy to see where that money is going.
So far, the office has already passed along all $43 million in transitional housing awards to nonprofit organizations and states. The Rose Brooks Centers of Kansas City, Kan., for instance, received $184,910 and Michigan's Department of Human Services got $2 million.
Two other federal agencies with potentially much more money to spend on the same purpose--the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, and the Department of Health and Human Services or HHS--are more difficult to monitor. That's particularly true of HHS.
HUD has $1.5 billion in recovery money allocated for emergency shelters and $1.6 billion allocated for homeless assistance.
HHS has $1 billion allocated to states through formula grants.
Some of this combined $2.5 billion may be allocated to domestic violence transitional housing programs, as many domestic violence organizations are eligible for grants from both HHS and HUD, as well as grants from the Office of Violence Against Women.
It's hard to keep tabs on HUD's spending on transitional housing because the large agency lumps that money together with all its expenditures for homeless people in general on its Web site tracking system.
Repeated clicks on the data files produces a list of specific program recipients. At that point it becomes easy to tell who's getting recovery aid specifically for transitional housing.
It's not easy, however, to tell how much of this transitional housing money is going to domestic violence shelters, because grantees are not categorized in any way to reveal that information. All that is available is the name of the grantee. So unless a researcher knows a provider by name and knows the program provides domestic violence services, instead of a more general purpose, it's a guessing game.
At HHS it's not possible to track transitional housing funds at all. The agency does not break down its allocations by individual program. Instead, programs are grouped together inside major grants, such as $89,150,162 to the state of California and $3,692,565 to the state of Alaska.
For the Office of Violence Against Women, charged in part with monitoring the performance of recipients of federal grants to fight domestic violence, this represents a problem.
The statute that authorizes Office of Violence Against Women transitional housing programs also requires it to coordinate with HUD and HHS in their allocation of grants to domestic violence transitional housing programs.
Despite that, the Office of Violence Against Women expended all of its $43 million in transitional housing grants blindly, without collaboration and information-sharing with the two larger agencies, according to Raymond Beaudet, assistant inspector general of audits for the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General.
Last June, Beaudet brought this problem to the attention of Catherine Pierce, acting director of the Office of Violence Against Women, in an acronym-loaded memo. "This lack of coordination means that OVW can neither identify HUD grant recipients nor assess whether these recipients have achieved their HUD grant performance goals," Beaudet wrote.
Beaudet recommended the Office of Violence Against Women be informed about the recipients of funding from the two agencies so it can avoid awarding grants to the same programs and also measure the performance of the programs with other funders.
Pierce told Beaudet in a July memo that her office was reaching out to HUD and HHS and a meeting of all three agencies was likely to take place before the end of July.
In a recent interview, Brian Sullivan, a spokesperson for HUD, told Women's eNews that that particular meeting never took place. Top officials from all three agencies did gather in October to discuss collaboration and information-sharing on domestic violence programs in a meeting at the White House, which was coordinated by Lynn Rosenthal, White House advisor on violence against women.
Rosenthal's office declined to answer questions about the outcome of that meeting with Women's eNews.
Sullivan said HUD officials have since met with their counterparts in the Office of Violence Against Women to share past grant lists and performance outcomes.
He said they are now actively sharing information on funding that goes towards domestic violence programs, including transitional housing.
No one at HHS was available for comment when contacted by Women's eNews.
Regina Varolli is a freelance writer and editor based in Manhattan, and the owner of Words by Regina Varolli and Co. She blogs at Culinary Sagacity and Political Sagacity.