Agencies protest cuts to services

PARKERSBURG – Advocates from social service agencies that serve children and domestic violence victims around the state will gather in Charleston May 20 to protest budget cuts.

The groups are urging citizens to get involved and show their support.

In March, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin used his line-item veto power to cut several early childhood and domestic violence programs from the fiscal year 2015 budget passed by the Legislature. This included more than $1 million in cuts to In-Home Family Education, Family Resource Networks and Starting Points Family Resource Centers, child advocacy centers, domestic violence programs and services, and agencies providing child abuse prevention services.

Emily Larkins, director of the Family Crisis Intervention Center, said there are 14 licensed domestic violence programs in the state that would be affected by the cuts. The local program serves several counties and provides a shelter for victims and their families, counseling, legal advocacy, a 24-hour hotline, referral and other services.

“We are a line item in the Department of Health and Human Resources budget that provides the funding for the main part of our programs. The governor is proposing a 14.3 percent cut. Other cuts include a 7.5 percent cut that would affect Legal Aid Services which we utilize,” Larkins said.

“These cuts will mean putting all the programs in a very difficult situation,” she said. “It would mean $25,000-$30,000 for us; that’s a lot of money; it will affect direct, life-saving services.”

Larkins noted West Virginia is eighth in the nation for homicide rates.

“And the governor wants to cut the services that work to prevent these things,” Larkins said. “Through awareness, we had the ability to possibly prevent 35 deaths last fiscal year; that’s 35 lives that you cannot put a price on,” she said. “The governor wants to cut life-saving services.”

Larkins said funding cuts are nothing new to the social service agencies, but the shelters already function on a “shoe-string” budget. “This would be a tremendous blow.”

She noted it is estimated 7-14 full-time jobs in the state would be affected by the cuts.

“We all already have small staffs,” she said.

She said the services provided are proactive and attempt to prevent future problems, which costs society much less than dealing with the problem later.

“Parkersburg is number seven in the state on hotline calls,” Larkins said, noting the advocates around the state are “holding their breath” to see what might happen.

“It’s a serious situation for all the programs, not just ours,” she said.

A total of $2.4 million is received for all 14 programs in the state.

The local shelter’s annual operationg budget is more than $650,000. The local shelter, which serves more counties than any other domestic violence shelter in the state, eight, has 23 staffers. “We are on duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

In addition to the cuts to the domestic violence prevention programs and victim’s services, as proposed 8.5 percent of the cuts would be to Family Resource Networks and Starting Points Family Resource Centers. Advocates said these programs leverage more than $5 for every $1 the state invests.

Twenty-five of the cuts would be to In-Home Family Education Home-visiting Programs. This program aids new at-risk parents, helping to prevent child abuse; 26 percent of the cuts would be to child abuse prevention funds through the West Virginia Children’s Trust Fund, and 7.4 percent of the cuts would be to Child Advocacy Centers that serve sexual abuse victims.

Many of these programs have seen cuts before or have not had any funding increases for years, while the cost of services and the increase in the number of families needing assistance have continued to rise, making it impossible to serve as many families and children, local advocates said.

Advocates from across the state are urging citizens to go to Charleston on May 20 to call on the governor and lawmakers to restore $1.06 million in budget cuts to early childhood programs.

More than 80 jobs are on the line. Millions of dollars in matching funds could be lost. A dozen offices and programs may be shutting their doors. Thousands of families that want to break the cycles of violence and poverty will be left with nowhere to go, advocates said.

Locally, programs that will be affected by the budget cuts include the Family Crisis and Intervention Center, Wood County Family Resource Network, the (Starting Points) Mid-Town Family Resource Center and Children’s Home Society of WV’s In-Home Family Education programs.

These cuts could jeopardize $14 million short-term funds from federal programs and private contributions, based on a report released about the cuts by the Our Children, Our Future Campaign, in partnership with the West Virginia Center on Budget and Policy.

Eight Republican lawmakers (including House Education Minority Chair Amanda Pasdon and Senate Minority Leader Mike Hall) urged the governor to restore the cuts, citing that the programs represented a “hand-up” out of poverty, not a “handout.”

Leaders from the Our Children, Our Future Campaign, the alliance that is leading the push, met with Revenue Secretary Bob Kiss and DHHR Secretary Karen Bowling. While the governor has not added the early childhood cuts to a possible special session, Kiss and Bowling pledged to work with advocates to search for ways to restore the funding.

“This event will either be a celebration or a call to action,” said Stephen Smith with the West Virginia Healthy Kids and Families Coalition, one of the groups involved with the Our Children, Our Future Campaign. “We hope that by then legislators and the governor will have worked together to find a solution, but if not, we will be ready to strongly make our case one last time.”

Groups or individuals interested in attending the rally and vigil in Charleston can register at www.ourchildrenourbudget.eventbrite.com or contact Stephen Smith at ssmith@wvhealthykids.org or 304-610-6512.