Iowa AG seeks funding for abuse shelter changes

DES MOINES – Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller is seeking $6 million from the Legislature as part of changes in how the state helps domestic abuse victims.

Miller asked a judiciary subcommittee last week for the money as his agency, which oversees domestic abuse and sexual assault programs, works to reduce its emphasis on shelters seen as underused and expensive.

The agency wants to close up to 12 of the 20 shelters the state now operates. Money saved by that move would go toward hiring 98 more advocates, adding to the 271 people who now help victims.

Advocates would focus more on helping people find permanent housing and support.

Miller said the state must find a way to manage its system more effectively because there is no guarantee how much federal funding states will get this year as Congress struggles with budget questions.

Miller said about 40 percent of the state victims services money goes toward shelters that serve only 11 percent of victims.

“We’re spending that much money on one service that wasn’t being used,” Miller said. “It made sense to consolidate.”

Miller wants $4 million to hire the additional advocates and $2 million to assist local programs as they collaborate to form six regions, each with one or two shelters. As part of the plan, fewer victims would be placed in traditional shelters and more would instead be given vouchers for temporary housing in a local hotel or helped with finding permanent housing.

Some lawmakers and shelter administrators said they worry the change could be hard on women in rural areas, where there are few housing options.

Sen. Tom Courtney, D-Burlington, said he was concerned that in some rural areas, an abuser could pinpoint the location of a victim in a town with only one hotel. He said closing shelters would also put services further out of reach for rural victims.