A coalition of community-based partners is urging New Jersey officials to use federal COVID relief funds to keep afloat a set of programs designed to assist and protect victims of violence.

They were informed in July that federal funding would be ending for nine hospital-based violence intervention programs throughout the state, and they are now pushing for a permanent solution before any operations are forced to shut their doors.

"These programs should not be relying on grants, period. These are life-changing services," Liza Chowdhury, project director of the Paterson Healing Collective, told us.

Since its start in late 2020, the Collective has offered bedside services to more than 130 gunshot victims, as well as victims of sexual assault, domestic violence, and other acts of violence, Chowdhury said.

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The HVIPs work to create a safety plan for clients, and assist in the areas of employment, food security, insurance, and emergency housing, among others.

"We are a complementary strategy to public safety. Police can't do everything on their own, and we can't ask them to," Chowdhury said.

The New Jersey Violence Intervention and Prevention Coalition held a news conference in Newark on Tuesday to call attention to the dire need for funds. For now, the Attorney General's Office, which handles the Victims of Crime Act federal dollars, is working with the programs to process and provide extensions that would permit them to continue operations through June 2023.

"The Attorney General’s Office is actively working with the Governor’s Office to secure funding for the HVIPs when the current federal VOCA dollars are exhausted," a spokesperson added.

Since the 2019 announcement of the hospital-based initiative, the state has expanded on this approach through new funding and programming, including $10 million in current and prior state budgets for community-based violence intervention, the office said.

The Coalition is calling for the immediate release of $10 million in "gap funding," from New Jersey's share of the American Rescue Plan, to keep HVIP services running smoothly. It's also looking for a long-term investment of $80 million in ARP funding over the next three years to stabilize the programs.

"With the loss of this funding, intervention programs will have to lay off our teams and stop the lifesaving work that prevents repeat and retaliatory violence," said Daamin X Durden, executive director of the Newark Community Street Team. "We hope that ARP dollars can be used immediately to support community-based intervention work to prevent these shutdowns."

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