Louisiana budget cuts jeopardize domestic violence victims
Domestic violence service providers across the state are reeling from the impact of Governor Jindal’s latest round of mid-year budget cuts. The cuts created a 21.2% reduction in Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) contracts for domestic violence services. These cuts are retroactive to the July 1 start date of the contracts. This means emergency shelter programs across the state will lose more than 42% of their funding from DCFS over the next six months.
“We had a conference call with the programs this morning and I think they are in shock. DCFS is the majority of their budgets. No one has yet been able to calculate what cuts this deep will look like.” said Beth Meeks Executive Director of the Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Meeks does not yet know if any programs will be forced to close but the programs have indicated that they are reviewing all options. “There will certainly be layoffs and reductions in services. Programs are evaluating what if any other options exist.”
The cuts are aimed at rebalancing the state's budget in light of lower revenue expectations and higher costs. The budget must be balanced by the time the fiscal year ends on June 30.
“While we certainly expected to share in budget cuts, this level of cut is devastating and potentially dangerous for the women and children that need our services,” said Meeks. One major area of concern is the possible reduction in beds at shelters that already often operate at or over capacity. “For many victims shelter is a last resort. It provides a secure environment that you can’t get at a local hotel and they don’t want to put their extended families at risk by staying with them.” Meeks explained.
In a one day snapshot on September 15, 2011, Louisiana domestic violence hotlines answered 314 calls, meaning Louisiana programs answered more than 13 hotline calls every hour. In that same day programs reported 51 unmet requests for service, 75% of which were requests for shelter that were unable to be met due to unavailable bed space or funding for hotel stays.
Meeks encouraged communities to rally together in an effort to address domestic violence, “It is clear that communities across Louisiana will need to radically rethink how we are delivering domestic violence services. This announcement should serve as an impetus to implement a stronger coordinated community response. Perpetrators must be held accountable; protection orders must be issued and enforced. We can only reduce the need for shelter beds if we can make it safe for women to remain in their own homes.”
Louisiana consistently leads the nation in domestic homicides and has done so since 1997. According to the September 2012 Violence Policy Center report, When Men Murder Women, in 2010 Louisiana ranked 4th in the nation in the rate of women killed by men.
The Louisiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence tracks these homicides and says from October 2011 through September 2012, at least 59 people died in domestic violence homicides in Louisiana.
For additional information on domestic violence, or to learn ways to get involved, please visit www.lcadv.org.