BFL’s Paul Feuerstein City Limits Op Ed: Gov. Needs to Restore Money for Domestic Violence Victims
From City Limits
Gov. Needs to Restore Money for Domestic Violence Victims
By: PAUL FEUERSTEIN
A recent New York City Council report found that incidents of domestic violence in public housing operated by NYCHA had doubled since 2009. And yet at the same time, our elected officials are cutting funding to groups that help domestic violence victims access legal services, receive counseling and find safe transitional housing.
When Governor Cuomo and state Budget Director Robert Megna directed state agencies to hold spending at current levels, they decided to ensure that these important programs remain underfunded. It doesn’t have to be this way. With a $4 billion state budget surplus at his disposal, the governor can make a much-needed $354 million investment in the human-services sector to protect programs helping thousands of domestic violence victims.
In the past, state funding for Non-Residential Domestic Violence programs totaled $3 million. During FY 2010-2012, $2.49 million was lost, leaving just $510,000 for crisis hotlines, support groups, counseling services and advocacy statewide. To date the full $3 million has not been restored. This loss of funding has resulted in 387,250 fewer victims being served and a loss of 85 jobs statewide. As funding has decreased, incidents of domestic violence have increased. Even if funding was restored to $3 million pre-recession levels, it would not be enough to keep up with the demand of services. Health-related costs of domestic violence alone are greater than $5.8 billion annually.
This is also amid increases in domestic violence cases and related homicides across the state. In 2013, the NYPD responded to 280,531 domestic violence incidents, approximately 765 per day. Additionally, domestic violence advocates answered approximately 99,719 hotline calls requesting services and support. It is organizations like ours that are helping the men and women who find themselves in these dangerous situations but we now have to restrict the services we provide because of limited financial resources.
The need for services for disabled survivors of domestic violence in New York City is compelling, while the resources available to this population are limited.
Barrier Free Living has made it part of its mission to work with disabled domestic-violence victims and meet their unique needs. At any given time, our Non-Residential Secret Garden program serves approximately 200 women and men. With an increase in cases, but flat contract funding, we are unable to hire a psychiatrist to work with the people we serve dealing with mental health issues or a Spanish speaking social worker to work with an increasing number of Latina survivors. As contract funding stays stagnant, we will continue to provide these lifeline services, but are constantly walking on a tight rope overlooking a financial disaster.
Since 2005 we have operated within New York City’s Family Justice Centers. We are given access to free space and office equipment, but the funding we receive for salaries and other expenses has remained unchanged since we started this program. We have not been able to give our Center workers salary increases, all while expenses for health insurance and other costs of doing business have increased. It forces us to find other sources of funding for what is supposed to be a government funded program.
Accessible and affordable human services are crucial to a domestic violence victim’s survival. Non-residential domestic violence intervention programs help women needing counseling support, and emergency shelter services provide refuge for women and their families in unstable circumstances. Still, we fail to invest in these critical human services.
Now is the right time for the governor to change that.
A statewide coalition of more than 80 human services providers has requested $354 million dollars to be included in the governor’s Executive Budget.
This much needed investment in the human services nonprofit sector should get support from our elected leaders, especially in light of the disturbing rise in domestic violence cases. By continuing a policy of flat funding and zero growth, Cuomo is leaving behind the victims who are looking for help out of what seems like a hopeless situation. We ask the governor to provide hope and reinvest in the organizations that serve this fragile population.