Rep. Steny Hoyer (center) leads an April 25 discussion in Upper Marlboro with service providers on ways to help victims in domestic violence and other situations as part of the House's approval to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)
Rep. Steny Hoyer (center) leads an April 25 discussion in Upper Marlboro with service providers on ways to help victims in domestic violence and other situations as part of the House's approval to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act. (William J. Ford/The Washington Informer)

Rep. Steny Hoyer heard two words over and over during a recent discussion on helping victims of violence: money and collaboration.

During the April 25 event at the Maryland Crime Victims’ Resource Center in Upper Marlboro, service providers emphasized the need for funding to train and pay staff as they help Marylanders deal with domestic violence, sexual assaults and other violent and nonviolent disputes.

They also called for better collaborative efforts not only among themselves but with lawmakers to update and streamline regulations that are sometimes repetitive and antiquated.

“We need regulations, we need rules, but we need to simplify the process,” Hoyer said. “We, unfortunately, underpay people in the public sector. We can always do better.”

The longtime Maryland Democrat led a discussion three weeks after the House voted April 4 to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which expired in February.

Domestic violence and other shelters can still use money issued from previous grants, but future money remains uncertain, since the GOP-controlled Senate has yet to approve the reauthorization.

One major sticking point for GOP lawmakers has been the prohibition of those who have been charged with misdemeanor offenses such as stalking from purchasing firearms, which the National Rifle Association has publicly condemned that part of the law as too extreme.

The gun-rights organization held its legislative leadership conference over the weekend in Indianapolis, which was attended by President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

“Under this president and this administration, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed!” Pence tweeted.

Trump’s proposed budget provides a slight increase of $750 billion, or 5%, toward defense, but about a $60 billion, or 10%, decrease in domestic spending.

In Upper Marlboro on Thursday, Hoyer shied away from politics and sought opinions from service workers throughout Maryland what can be improved through the Violence Against Women Act to help victims, local government agencies and nonprofit organizations.

Kathleen O’Brien, CEO of Walden Sierra Inc. in St. Mary’s County, said administrative requirements for some federal and state grants should be streamlined, especially for smaller nonprofit organizations.

Her group chose not to apply for particular grants because “it was going to cost us more to apply for the grants than we would get from the grants.”

Denise McCain, executive director for Prince George’s County Family Crisis Center, said the center received a $20,000 VAWA grant for victims’ legal services but applied for $135,000 to add a financial literacy component.

She presented a few statistics on how its clientele increased for its economic empowerment program to help survivors with child support, mortgage and other financial needs.

The center assisted 45 clients so far this year, compared to 43 all of last year. In addition, McCain said women with annual salaries of $75,000 and higher have sought assistance when leaving previous relationships.

“We need to look at ways in which these funds can be used more broadly,” she said.

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