Testimony to Senate Finance re: Funding Exceptional Item #2 from the Trusteed Programs Within the Office of the Governor

Friday, February 3, 2023

My name is Chara McMichael and I serve as Executive Director for BCFS Health and Human Services’ Human Trafficking Interdiction Division. We are one of the largest CSEY advocacy providers for the Governor’s Child Sex Trafficking Team.

I am testifying today “ON” Senate Bill 1.

Specifically, I am here to encourage you to fully fund or even increase the Governor’s Exceptional Item Request #2 from the Trusteed Program Within the Office of the Governor.

This item would designate $120 million – or $60 million annually – to lifesaving victim assistance programs including those serving survivors of human trafficking, sexual assault, childhood abuse and neglect.

Several of these programs are historically funded by VOCA. As you may recall, the fund was significantly depleted due to a lack of court cases during COVID and a – now-corrected – accounting quirk that diverted out-of-court settlement penalties.

Thanks to your efforts, Senate Bill 8 passed in the third special session of the 87th legislature… leveraging ARPA funds to “bridge the gap” while the Fund replenishes.

Were it not for SB 8 and those ARPA funds, our child sex trafficking program faced an almost 45 percent cut, while other trafficking providers were defunded entirely.

SB 8 saved the day.

We were all made whole… though not immediately.

In the uncertainty between the end of regular session and the third special, providers made tough decisions about reductions in staff… and cases.

I had to cut half of my team and reduce our survivor numbers by almost 300, forcing us to identify the most stable and furthest along in their healing journey to close from our client roles. Where possible, we connected survivors with other providers — even if they did not specialize in trafficking work — because they could at least still provide case management and other supports…

VOCA funds are rebuilding, but they are not at the needed levels… yet.

Our survivors… those we currently serve and those still suffering in the shadows… need a trusted advocate when identified… they need the stability that the Exceptional Item #2 request provides…

Therefore I ask, once more, that you support the Governor’s exceptional item request and fully incorporate it into Senate Bill 1.

Thank you.

Chara McMichael, Executive Director
Human Trafficking Interdiction Division
BCFS Health and Human Services
17319 San Pedro Ave., Suite 208 | San Antonio, TX 78232
direct (210) 208-5552 | cell (210) 241-6307
Website www.DiscoverBCFS.net