Prosecutor ‘stunned’ by funding cuts to key support for domestic violence survivors

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the first time in more than two decades, domestic

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — For the first time in more than two decades, domestic violence survivors in Kent County don’t have the on-scene support of a program the county’s prosecutor called “tremendously valuable.”

“I was stunned. It just never occurred to me that we could actually lose that funding,” Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker said.

Cuts to the Grand Rapids-based Domestic Assault Response Team come at a particularly troubling time; Kent County was the scene of four homicides in September, all of which were deemed domestic-violence related.

Created in 1993, DART has for decades responded with police to domestic calls when survivors said they wanted that assistance.

In the last year, DART reports it served more than 1,800 survivors of domestic violence.

“DART is a tremendously valuable asset,” Becker said of the program that provides direct support and resources to survivors in their moment of crisis.

“DART was the one that was on the frontlines that could respond with the police right off the bat, and I think that’s going to be a big hit when you don’t have that resource. All of a sudden, they’re down to one person when it used to be 24/7 they could send somebody out,” Becker continued.

The program was forced to cut seven of its eight part-time workers after the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services denied its grant request for $177,000.

The remaining part-time worker will not respond to scenes but instead contact survivors by email and phone.

“We have received grant approval for DART for the past 20 or so years and were surprised this year when there was an entirely different application format,” explained Tanya Todd, court administrator at the 61st District Court in Grand Rapids, where DART is based.

“We completed (the grant) as necessary and assumed we would be renewed once again and were extremely disappointed we were denied on what appears to be some questionable technical reasons,” Todd added.

Todd said the court is “optimistic” DART will find other funding sources.

The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, which denied the grant, sent News 8 a statement saying it awards the grants to programs that provide direct services to survivors of domestic violence.

“The rating team for this competitive grant determined that the DART proposal included activities outside of direct support to survivors of domestic violence/intimae partner violence,” MDHHS Public Information Officer Bob Wheaton wrote.

“The department remains committed to providing direct services in Kent County and funds several agencies that offer services to victims of domestic violence, including emergency shelter, counseling services and victim advocacy,” the statement concluded.

Wheaton later told News 8 the grant program was “very competitive” and the state received “far greater financial requests than dollars available to us to award.”