State budget cuts hit domestic violence programs

Published 10:45 am Friday, January 4, 2013

BATON ROUGE (AP) — Gov. Bobby Jindal’s latest budget cuts are shrinking the amount spent on shelters that take in battered women and other agencies to prevent domestic violence.

The reductions were made to help close a $166 million midyear budget deficit.

The Advocate reported that money for family violence prevention and intervention programs was cut by more than $998,000, a 16 percent drop in the amount spent on contracts the state holds with shelters and other domestic violence programs.

In Baton Rouge, shelter director Audrey Wascome said she may have to pare the number of beds for battered women and children by a third. Already, she said, she turns away an average of five women a day.

“The shelter is a place of last resort. If they’re coming to us, it’s because they have no place else to go,” said Wascome, interim director at the Capital Area Family Violence Intervention Center, which serves seven parishes.

The shelter will lose $127,200, about one-fifth of its overall funding.

Dale Standifer, executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Women and Children in the New Orleans area, said the cuts will erode funding for its emergency shelter by $60,000, a little less than 10 percent of overall funding.

Children and Family Services Secretary Suzy Sonnier said she is uncertain how individual shelters will handle the cuts.

“There’s no doubt these are good programs,” she said. “These decisions are extremely difficult to make.”

Sonnier said after the cuts, her agency still is spending $5.3 million for domestic violence services around the state.

The budget slashing to domestic violence programs affects 18 providers and the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“We’re really in a very precarious situation where another round of cuts is going to destabilize the entire system,” said Beth Meeks, executive director of the coalition.

In announcing the reductions, the Jindal administration said the state was moving away from costly residential care for domestic violence victims in favor of short-term hotel stays and family care.

But Wascome said victims often cannot pay for a hotel room or do not want to leave an electronic trail by using a credit card. Asking them to stay with family the abuser knows is dangerous, she said.

Sonnier said sending abuse victims to a hotel would cut down on the need for around-the-clock staff at shelters. A spokesman for the Department of Children and Family Services, Trey Williams, said the money for the hotels could be paid to domestic violence program providers, who in turn would contract with the hotels so the bill wouldn’t be paid by the victim.

Sonnier said Louisiana also is looking at how other states handle domestic violence cases to find long-term solutions.””

Gov. Bobby Jindal. (Associated Press)

J. Scott Applewhite