SYRACUSE — U.S. Rep. John Katko received a call from Randi Bregman, executive director of Vera House in Syracuse, asking him to be the Republican lead on legislation to bolster domestic violence prevention services.
Katko, R-Camillus, didn't hesitate to act.
"I learned a long time ago you don't say no to Randi," he said at a press conference at his Syracuse office Friday.
The bill would reauthorize the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, which took effect in 1984 and has helped more than 1.3 million domestic violence survivors and their children. The measure cosponsored by Katko would increase funding from about $200 million to $252 million, expand access to programs, especially for underserved communities, and update the National Domestic Violence Hotline.
Katko explained that the law helps organizations like Vera House and Cayuga Counseling Services with operational expenses. It complements the Violence Against Women Act, a 1994 law that established and supports many of the domestic violence and sexual violence prevention programs that exist today.
Bregman said the funding is usually distributed to domestic violence programs in the state and allows organizations like Vera House to provide residential and nonresidential services.
Vera House, according to Bregman, uses the funding to have an advocate within Onondaga County's Child Protective Services office. The advocate works with Child Protective Services to provide safety for a victim of family violence and their family.
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Bregman highlighted the bill's provisions that would provide a greater focus on underserved areas. The legislation would establish a new grant program aimed at underserved populations, especially for people in rural communities.
"Having that specific targeted funding, I think, will help do the work we do even better," she said.
The bill supported by Katko was introduced by U.S. Rep. Lucy Mcbath, a Georgia Democrat, and has eight other cosponsors — six Democrats and two Republicans. A similar bill introduced in the Senate also has bipartisan support.
Katko recalled working with organizations like Vera House during his time as a federal prosecutor in central New York. He called the groups "the secret angels in our communities" because of their work to prevent domestic and sexual violence and to provide services to abuse survivors.
He's hopeful that this is a bill Congress will pass and get to the president's desk.
"Reauthorizing this important funding source will ensure local, state and tribal governments will continue to provide protection and support services and will provide local organizations in our community with the support to provide support and advocacy for survivors and their children," he said.