PEER critical of agency’s handing of shelter funds
By Wally Northway
JACKSON — A legislative committee is criticizing state health officers for what it says is failure to distribute $1.6 million to domestic violence shelters across Mississippi.
Deputy state health officer Mike Lucius told The Clarion-Ledger that a state law enacted in 1983 limits the amount any one shelter may get to $50,000 per fiscal year.
“There is no way we could have ever expended all the money with the $50,000 statutory requirement,” Lucius said.
However, the legislative Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Committee says most of the 12 shelters awarded grants in the 2013 budget year did not get that much.
The PEER report says the Mississippi State Department of Health disbursed $3.4 million to domestic violence shelters in fiscal years 2005-2013.
A domestic violence task force criticized the agency in October for failing to distribute or account for nearly $600,000 in state and federal money to victims.
The failure to distribute the $1.6 million is heartbreaking, said task force chairwoman Sandy Middleton, executive director of the Center for Violence Prevention.
“More importantly, it’s a call for the Mississippi Legislature to support the task force recommended legislation, which will create a new commission to oversee these funds. Clearly, MDOH isn’t focused on this issue, and the people of Mississippi deserve better,” Middleton said.
Middleton said shelters across the state work hard to provide services to victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and human trafficking. She said the communities they serve support their efforts with food drives, clothing and furniture for victims.
Middleton said the task force is recommending that the Legislature create a commission to be the sole entity to administer state and federal grant money going to the Victims of Domestic Violence Fund. She said the commission should have responsibility to develop, promulgate and implement certification and reporting standards for domestic violence and related victim service providers.
The PEER committee report said the Health Department hasn’t created a special fund in the state treasury for the Domestic Violence Fund, as required by state law.
The report further said Health Department officials have not taken into consideration the revenue from criminal bond fees, which began yielding money for the Domestic Violence Fund in fiscal 2010, when determining the amount available for grants to domestic violence shelters.
Lucius said he has already established the special fund in the treasury and has begun moving the money into the fund.