New Oversight for Domestic-Violence Funds?

By R.L. Nave
January 27, 2014

Several lawmakers have proposed bills that would establish an interpersonal-violence commission to monitor and distribute funds to domestic-violence shelters.

Sens. David Blount, D-Jackson, and Sean Tindell, R-Gulfport, have each introduced legislation that would give oversight of several federal and state anti-violence grants. Rep. Kimberly Campbell, D-Jackson, has a companion bill in the House.

Currently, the Mississippi State Department of Health collects and distributes much of the money that goes to domestic-violence prevention in the state. However, advocates for victims have decried what they consider the state health department’s failure to fully fund domestic-violence shelters.

A Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review bolstered that view, showing that $1.6 million state health officials collected over the course of four years did not trickle down to the shelters.

The PEER study, published in December, came on the heels of a review by the 25-member Governor’s Domestic Violence Task Force in October that also found that the Mississippi State Department of Health, which is in charge of dispersing funds to domestic-violence shelters around the state, had withheld $600,000 over a two-year period.

Between fiscal-years 2005 and 2013, the Victims of Domestic Violence Fund took in $5.5 million in revenues, collected from court fees and distributed approximately $3.9 million.

Officials with MSDH say their hands are tied when it comes to how the law allows MSDH to hand out the funds. Michael Lucius, deputy state health officer at MSDH, told the Jackson Free Press in December that the grants are for reimbursements, and that state law limits the amount that shelters can receive to no more than $50,000 per fiscal year. PEER’s review determined that, of 12 shelters that received grants in fiscal year 2013, none received the $50,000 statutory limit. Eight shelters received $42,764 each. The remaining four grantees received less than $40,000 each, the report shows.

Lucius explained that centers may not have received the maximum amount because some of the receipts they filed were not reimbursable according to the guidelines spelled out by state law. The PEER report also notes the $50,000 per-shelter cap and states that MSDH has not created a special treasury fund for Victims of Domestic Violence Fund, as required by state law. MSDH has since created a separate fund.

Also, in fiscal-year 2010, the domestic-violence fund started receiving revenues from criminal bond fees collected from people charged with domestic-violence crimes, which put money in the fund faster that the health department could dole it out, officials said.

Tindell’s SB 2675 and Blount’s SB 2667 were referred the Senate Judiciary B and Accountability, Efficiency, Transparency committees. Campbell’s HB 1030 was referred to the House Judiciary B Committee, of which she is vice chair.