LA CROSSE, Wis. - More than a year after Congress was unable to come to an agreement over renewing the Violence Against Women Act, President Barack Obama signed the law into reauthorization Thursday.
The law provides support to organizations that serve victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Last year, Congress couldn't agree that VAWA's funding should be expanded to help all victims, including the LGBT community and undocumented immigrants.
But the version the president signed into law Thursday includes those new protections.
Now that VAWA is back, several organizations in the La Crosse community are breathing a sigh of relief.19228046
The Domestic Abuse Reduction Team, or DART, has helped protect thousands of domestic violence victims from their abusers.
DART responded to 2,021 domestic incidents in La Crosse County last year.
But the program would struggle without Violence Against Women Act funding.
"A skeleton. We'd be able to run it. Unfortunately, it would only be a shadow of what we do now," said DART Law Enforcement Coordinator Investigator Tim O'Neill. "We would probably lose the victim services coordinator, multicultural advocates."
Now that VAWA is back, O'Neill is applying for another grant, like the $400,000 in funding DART got last time.
"It funds, like I said, most of the DART positions. The victim services coordinator's position is fully funded by that grant. My position as the law enforcement coordinator is funded by that grant. A lot of positions with our partners over at New Horizons are funded by that grant as well," said O'Neill.
New Horizons' shelter has been full since 2009.
Executive Director Ann Kappauf said, even when grants are scarce, they won't turn anyone away.
"Our services are free and confidential. Over the last five years, since the economy started to go downward, we've lost a lot of grant funding. But we are still providing the same amount of services," said Kappauf.
VAWA money helps keep New Horizons running. Kappauf said she's excited the latest version is more inclusive.
"To have it include victims of LGBT communities, Native American, immigrants, victims on college campuses, victims in communities of color -- it's including everyone. It's making sure that no one is left behind," said Kappauf.
Since the Violence Against Women Act originally passed in 1994, the national rate of domestic violence has decreased by 64 percent.
According to the National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence Against Women, local domestic violence programs across the country support more than 67,000 victims every 24-hours.
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