By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, Oct 2 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - The U.S. government has postponed an anticipated $13.5 million grant to provide emergency shelter and housing for trafficking survivors, leaving their supporters scrambling for scarce funds for victim services.
The money was approved two years ago but abruptly suspended in recent days without explanation, officials and supporters said on Wednesday.
The $13.5 million grant was designated for emergency shelter, housing and support services for survivors of sex and labor trafficking as well as such items as trauma therapy, child care and household needs.
An estimated 400,000 people are believed to be trapped in trafficking and modern slavery in the United States, according to the human rights group Walk Free Foundation.
The Department of Housing and Urban Development's online notice of the grant was updated to read: "Please note that this funding opportunity has been postponed until further notice."
It had been taking applications and planning to select 20 groups for the money.
Those who work to find housing for trafficking survivors were left without the prospect of much-needed funds, said Darla Bardine, executive director of the National Network for Youth.
The network's member organizations provide help to runaway and homeless youth that include trafficking survivors, Bardine told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"My providers were excited about the possibility of expanding what they already had in place," she said. "There's a huge lack of housing services for young people."
No other such funding is available from the Housing Department, she added.
The money was a joint project by the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Department of Justice, along with the Department of Health and Human Services.
A HUD spokesman said the funds "have simply been postponed" and that responsibility for the program has been delegated to the Department of Justice.
Representatives of the Department of Justice and the Department of Health & Human Services did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown wrote to the federal agencies last week asking that the funding be reinstated immediately.
"This is unacceptable and will have real consequences," the Democrat wrote in the Sept. 27 letter. "Traffickers use poverty and housing instability to lure vulnerable people and entrap more victims into their criminal operation," said Brown.
The administration of President Donald Trump has promised to prioritize efforts to combat human trafficking, he added.
Trump signed into law a measure in January that put other nations' efforts to fight human trafficking under increased U.S. scrutiny.
The law also discourages law enforcement from arresting victims of sex trafficking, increases survivor restitution and lengthens maximum prison terms for convicted traffickers.
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Chris Michaud )
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