In September 2019, the Trump administration suddenly and inexplicably halted a federal grant competition to provide housing and victim-centered supportive services to human trafficking victims. In July 2019, HUD announced a grant competition to fund organizations that provide victims of sex and human trafficking with supportive housing services, including immediate access to emergency shelter, child care services, and trauma therapy. HUD managed the funds through an interagency agreement with DOJ’s Office for Victims of Crime. On August 22, 2019, the administration held a webinar for potential application organizations and USICH praised the grant competition as an “unprecedented partnership” between HUD and DOJ. The initial deadline for grant applicants was August 31, 2019.
Up to $13.5 million in grant funding was pulled days after HUD announced that the grant could fund services for non-citizen human trafficking victims. On September 4, 2019, HUD announced that the grant had been updated to allow non-citizen victims to be served through the program. Five days later—and after the initial deadline for certain applicants—HUD cancelled the grant competition without any explanation. HUD later updated its website to describe the grant competition as postponed.
DOJ has reportedly clawed the money back from HUD to run the grant program itself. Both HUD and DOJ have come under fire from Sen. Sherrod Brown for the cancellation of this grant competition. Bipartisan Senate appropriators have also expressed concern “about the lack of transparency and abrupt cancellation” of the grant program and have urged HUD to move forward with the competition “expediently.”
DOJ’s Director of Office for Victims of Crime, Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, is now overseeing the human trafficking grant competition and has been criticized for potential political interference in federal grantmaking. In August 2019, the union that represents employees in DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs requested the DOJ Inspector General investigate Hutchinson Biehl’s actions to review social media accounts of peer reviewers—allegations the House Judiciary Committee described as “disturbing” and deserving of a “thorough investigation.”
The Trump administration is now unlawfully withholding records that could shine light on how the decision to abruptly cut funding was made, so we’re suing to uncover them. The Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness failed to comply with our Freedom of Information Act request to release records we requested.
Even as the administration cut funding for victims and failed to disclose why, President Trump has repeatedly boasted of his attempts to “end the scourge” of human trafficking. First Daughter and White House Senior Advisor Ivanka Trump has frequently praised the administration’s efforts and just last week at an administration gathering on international trafficking tweeted that the administration was serving as a “voice for the voiceless.”
The Trump administration has repeatedly come under criticism for grant politicization in other cabinet agencies, including HHS, DOI, and the EPA. Here’s what we’re doing about it:
- Energy and Environment
Uncovering the politicization and mismanagement of grant decisions
We filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department to investigate the politicization of grant decisions and the role played by an inexperienced Zinke ally leading the process.
Learn more about this lawsuit
- Health Care
King County, Baltimore & Healthy Teen Network v. Department of Health & Human Services
Successfully forced HHS to reinstate unlawfully terminated evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program grants on behalf of localities and a non-profit organization