It was with a lot of fanfare that North Carolina lawmakers unveiled a bill last month to allocate up to $50 million to help the victims of human trafficking.
Sponsored by a top Mecklenburg County lawmaker and the top House budget writer, the measure had 48 co-sponsors – nearly half the House.
The General Assembly’s final $23 billion budget calls for posting public awareness signs at hospitals and other public sites, but no money to provide services for trafficking victims.
“It’s frustrating,” said Lanie George, who runs a shelter for trafficking victims in Cabarrus County. “We’re communicating to our women that they’re not valuable enough for us to provide for their healing needs.”
House Bill 910 was sponsored by Republican representatives including Bill Brawley of Matthews and Nelson Dollar of Cary. Brawley chairs the Finance Committee; Dollar leads the House budget committee.
Brawley could not be reached Tuesday.
Victim advocates call human trafficking modern-day slavery. Brawley’s bill would have allocated $37.5 million for shelter beds, $13.5 million for mental health services, and $4.5 million to educate students on the warning signs for trafficking. Providing a bed and services can cost up to $40,000 a year for each victim. Mental health services could cost another $15,000, experts say.
George, whose suburban shelter now has four women staying there, said she had to turn away three others last week for lack of money.
According to the anti-trafficking Polaris Project, more than 8,000 trafficking cases were reported nationwide in 2016 – 35 percent more than a year before. In North Carolina, 181 cases were called in to the National Human Trafficking Hotline last year, up from 112.
In April the Observer recounted the story of Joy Anderson, a former sex trafficking victim rescued by George, who later named her shelter “Redeeming Joy.” She said she’s disappointed lawmakers did not approve any money to help people like her.
“Frankly, it makes me feel like, why?” Anderson said. “Why wouldn’t anybody care about these lost women and lost men?”
Tammy Harris, a board member of the Cabarrus shelter, called the lack of funding “disheartening.” She’d gone to Raleigh with Anderson for the announcement of the House bill. She said a lawmaker later told her why he thought the funding request wasn’t going anywhere.
“This is not an issue that people vote on,” she recalled him saying. “And while it’s important to people, it’s not going to get representatives reelected.”