Funding Cut Days After Announcement That Grants Could be Used to Support Non-Citizen Victims

Withheld Records Could Reveal Another Example in Administration’s Pattern of Politicizing Federal Grants

Concern Heightened With DOJ’s Darlene Hutchinson Biehl, Previously Accused of Politicizing DOJ Grants, Now Overseeing Trafficking Grant


Washington, D.C.—
 Today, Democracy Forward sued the Trump administration for failing to release records related to the sudden and unexplained indefinite postponement of a federal grant competition to provide housing and victim-centered supportive services to human trafficking victims. Up to $13.5 million in grant funding was pulled just five days after it was announced that non-citizens could be served by the program. Today’s lawsuit was filed after the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Justice, and U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness failed to release the requested records as required under the Freedom of Information Act.

“The unexplained elimination of funding to help vulnerable human trafficking victims hints at the Trump administration pattern of politicizing grants and reeks of administrative waste,” said Democracy Forward Senior Counsel Robin Thurston. “We’re demanding HUD and DOJ release records explaining why the administration indefinitely postponed this essential funding because the public deserves answers.”

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.

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 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, however 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.”

Even as the administration cut funding for victims, 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 HHSDOI, and the EPA. The suit was filed November 5, 2019 in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.

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Charisma Troiano
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Democracy Forward is a nonprofit legal organization that scrutinizes Executive Branch activity across policy areas, represents clients in litigation to challenge unlawful actions, and educates the public when the White House or federal agencies break the law.