State board handles battle over domestic violence funding

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INDIANAPOLIS (Sept. 19, 2014) - The issue of domestic violence was front and center here in Indiana on Friday, with another fight over funding making news at the state capitol.

Several local advocacy groups appeared Friday afternoon in front of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute's board of trustees - that's the group that disperses some of their funding.

“We need the dollars to provide the critical services that victims are counting on us to provide,” said Mary Jo Lee, the CEO of Alternatives Incorporated in Madison County.

It's been a controversy all week since the advocacy groups found out they might not be getting all the money they were expecting this year.

Officials with Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence claimed they were told the state wanted to slash $1.2 million from $3.5 million earmarked by the General Assembly for domestic violence programs. But officials with the ICJI say that’s not technically the case, and that the groups would be getting the same amount they were given last year, with a chance to earn the additional $1.2 million if they could provide the board with a detailed spending plan.

"Governor Pence is deeply concerned about this issue and at no time did he direct anyone to withhold money or to lower funding," said John Hill, the governor's deputy chief of staff.

"It is definitely semantics," said Lee. "There is no doubt the funding they have put on the table is definitely less than what there is to be allocated."

Friday, the board voted unanimously to hold back that additional money, nearly $1.2 million, but promised to release it soon if the groups can provide a spending plan.

State officials also admitted that some money may have previously been reverted to the state's general fund by mistake.

"If they work to get it back, that’s a step in the right direction and a little more we can give out," said Laura Berry, the executive director of the ICADV.  "My feelings are I have to believe the board is committed to making certain this money gets out soon."

The issue of domestic violence has gained national attention in light of the case involving NFL player Ray Rice and the furor over the NFL’s response. Berry said the group has seen an uptick in need for domestic violence services since video surfaced of Rice hitting his then-fiancée in an elevator.

According to Berry, 30,581 people were served by domestic violence programs in Indiana last year. There were 59,196 calls to the domestic violence hotline. On the flip side, 601 people were denied services because shelters were too full. And 62 people died from an act of domestic violence.

Berry called it an “emergency situation.”

But the governor’s office claimed the ICADV’s press release earlier this week was “not accurate” and said that any claims that Pence was trying to cut funding were “total fabrication.”

Meantime, officials at ICJI said these aren’t technically budget cuts at all. A spokesperson for the ICJI said an additional $826,840 would be available once the shelters provide details on how the additional funds would be spent.  The spokesperson said: “The spending details are critical for public accountability, transparency, and to ensure funds are best utilized to meet the needs of domestic violence victims.”

Some state lawmakers took issue with the administration's actions. State Rep. Linda Lawson, D-Hammond, said the following in a written statement Friday afternoon:

“At first glance, it seems insane that, during a time when public awareness of the horrors of domestic violence is at a peak, we would be discussing potential cuts in funding for programs designed to prevent those abuses and educate the public about them.

“Yet here we are, doing exactly that.

“Today’s meeting of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute proved to be a fine example of the time-honored tradition of politicians covering their back sides. We heard a lot of people from the administration say that they would never think of cutting funding for domestic violence prevention in Indiana.

“Except for the fact that they admitted that they did revert nearly $350,000 in funding set aside for that purpose last year.

“Remember that this governor and his administration are truly devoted to only one thing: keeping a $2 billion budget surplus. Nothing else is as important.

“Here’s how this game goes. When the administration asks agencies to submit proposals for the next biennial state budget, one of their first priorities is to set aside a fixed amount in ‘reserve.’ Based on past history, this ‘reserve’ has served only one purpose: being reverted back to the state’s general fund to keep our budget surplus high. As we saw today, even domestic violence prevention programs are not immune.

“So, we should be forgiven for not being completely satisfied when officials tell us today that they will not seek more than $160,000 in reversions over the next year.

“And I think it’s safe to be concerned that another $800,000 in additional funding might be at risk as well, since agencies can only receive those dollars through criteria that no one truly understands.

“Since this administration is so fond of numbers, let me provide a few:

“From July 2013 to June 2014, there were 67 homicides resulting from domestic violence in Indiana, an increase of nearly 20 percent from the previous year. In the same time frame, there were nearly 64,000 calls to the domestic violence hotline, an increase of more than 4,000 calls from the previous year. One in six Hoosier girls has been raped or sexually assaulted.

“For those who are fond of quoting rankings to show Indiana’s progress, here are a couple to recite. Indianapolis ranks among the top 20 cities in the country for domestic violence. Indiana has the third worst infant mortality rate in the nation.

“The problem is real in Indiana, just as it is across this country. If there is anything positive to be gained from the tragedy surrounding Ray Rice,  it’s that the public is gradually becoming aware that this isn’t a new problem, and that the need for a solution remains as urgent as ever. During my years on the Hammond Police Department, I saw first-hand the damage domestic violence did to families.

“We still need to be legitimately worried that these programs will not get the funding they were promised. Another fine political tradition is to tell someone what they want to hear so they will go away…then wait a few months to go ahead and do what you want when no one is paying attention.

"My intention is to keep the governor’s feet to the fire and make sure his administration does what is right.

“I would ask the governor and his fiscal people to put down their bean counters for a moment and just think about lives that are being impacted here, and that there is more to running a state than simply keeping $2 billion in the bank.”

A release from ICADV had mistakenly listed a different room for Friday's hearing.

 

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