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Domestic Violence Shelters Falter Under Budget Impasse


One of the many victims of Pennsylvania’s budget impasse is domestic violence organizations that rely on government funding.

With the impasse well into its fourth month, organizations that rely on state or federal funding aren’t getting either, and there are fears that some may have to temporarily shutter their doors. That means victims of domestic violence may not get the help they need.

Peg Dierkers, executive director of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said she's been in daily contact with the state's 60 shelters. She said they have used up their cash reserves.

Twenty-five centers have curtailed their community education and children’s advocacy work and cut back on work they do with health providers. Some shelters instituted furloughs, reduced counseling services, added volunteer hours or cut transportation to medical and legal appointments; others with more robust resources lent a hand to smaller centers, she said.

“This is certainly the worst,” Dierkers said. “We have had late budgets many years. It's almost the norm now. Programs are used to piecing it together for a couple of weeks or a month or so, but usually we have some cash coming in that will help us bridge that gap.”

Not this year, she said.

Artyce Thomas, program coordinator at the Women’s Health Center serving Cambria and Somerset counties, said the group provides approximately 2,000 women with shelter services a year.

Without any state assistance since June, Thomas said they are now on their third line of credit and can’t afford to fill vacant positions.

“We’re afraid,” she said. They have full- and part-time staff filling in the gaps, but "we’re relying on our volunteers in order to address the budget shortfall.”

Thomas said other area agencies that would typically receive state dollars are sending them ever more referrals. But unlike other organizations in the state, she said, they haven’t had to cut services.

A shelter serving Huntington County in central Pennsylvania laid off half its staff over the last month, and have started relocating clients.

Dierkers said they anticipate the legislature will pass the budget proposed by the governor for domestic violence services, which included an increase for shelters. They're concerned about the long-term effects of a sustained delay, she said.

“(Access to state) money will expire June 30, (2016)," she said, no matter when it's approved. "So we’ve begun to talk to state government about extending the expiration date on this year’s money so that the local centers can catch up with the all the work that has to be done."