Covering Louisiana

Jan 4, 2013 1:00 PM by AP

Budget cuts hit domestic violence programs

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) - Gov. Bobby Jindal's latest budget cuts are shrinking dollars spent on shelters that take in battered women and other domestic violence prevention providers.

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

The Advocate reports that funding for family violence prevention and intervention programs was cut by more than $998,000, a 16 percent drop in the dollars 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, roughly 20 percent 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."

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 lack the money to 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. She said Louisiana also is looking at how other states handle domestic violence cases.

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