Worries Remain That Domestic Violence Shelters Could Be Hit With Additional Financial Cuts

Advocates for victims of domestic violence breathed an overdue sigh of relief when senators passed the state budget with $20.4 million planned for domestic violence shelter funding, according to a spokeswoman for a statewide anti-violence agency.

However, they were disheartened when Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced his plan to cut an additional $965 million from the budget that was approved by the state Legislature on Friday, said Camille Hayes, spokeswoman for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence.

People who fight on behalf of those victimized by domestic abuse fear that the funding for the vital shelters will suffer from that budget slashing just as it did last year, Hayes said.

“We were very surprised,” Hayes said Friday. “That’s not spare change. That is a very large amount of money he’s looking to cut.”

During the finalization of the 2009-2010 state budget last July, Schwarzenegger chose to line-item veto all state funding for domestic violence shelters, Hayes said. Within the first six weeks of that veto, six shelters throughout the state were forced into closure, she said.

Emergency funding legislation was pushed through the state Senate by Sen. Leland Yee, D-San Francisco, to garner $16.3 million for shelter programs statewide, Hayes said.

That money allowed the majority of the shuttered shelters to reopen, highlighting the significance of state funding in the operation of respite shelters for violence victims, Hayes said.

“(People) realized once they were gone what those shelters did, which is protect women, protect children, protect families, protect public safety, and in doing that protect all Californians,” Hayes said.

Schwarzenegger said Friday morning that he planned to trim the additional $965 million from the budget to pad the state reserve, which is currently at $200 million. The governor said his goal is to get the reserve over the $1 billion mark.

“That is what we need to hit in order to hit our goal of the kind of cuts that we wanted to make,” Schwarzenegger said at a press conference in Sacramento Friday morning. “We will sign the budget and then we will go and start looking at the list of things that we can cut.”

Hayes said the general fund – the large, ambiguous pot of money from which most of the shelter funding would come – is usually the first area “raided” when legislators aim to cut a budget.

“Frankly, we think it’s irresponsible to pad the state reserve at a time when the state is in such a financial crisis that it can’t afford to sustain human services,” Hayes said.

Adam Keigwin, a spokesman for Yee, said it would be “absolutely devastating” if the governor chose to veto the funding for the shelters, often a final resource for people trying to flee domestic abuse.

“If he does, there’s no doubt dozens of shelters throughout the state would close,” Keigwin said Friday.

The “belt-tightening” state violence shelters have already undergone since the 2009 funding crisis has left hundreds of shelters nearly incapable of providing the services violence victims truly need and deserve, Hayes said.

Domestic violence shelter advocates like Hayes’ agency are increasing grassroots efforts to raise awareness about the necessity of these shelters and are writing letters to Schwarzenegger encouraging him to maintain the funding, Hayes said.

If the governor chooses to line-item veto the allocated money, Yee’s office plans to help victim support agencies find funding while shelter operators wage aggressive media and community campaigns, Hayes and Keigwin said.

“If (Schwarzenegger) thinks that history will look so kindly on that large budget surplus that it will forget that California went without basic human services, that’s a pretty big gamble to take,” Hayes said.

Source: http://sfappeal.com/news/2010/10/worries-remain-that-domestic-violence-shelters-could-be-hit-with-additional-financial-cuts.php