Here I was, minding my own business on twitter the other day when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution tweeted a blog posting from one of their political correspondents, Jim Galloway.  I am not a strict follower of politics generally – but I religiously follow health policy news. Shameless plug: You can come to this site on any day and see our listing of the top health policy news stories (courtesy of our friends at Kaiser Family Foundation). I read Mr. Galloway’s post explaining Georgia’s plan to eliminate all state funds for domestic violence programming. As I tried to temper myself and not jump the gun in response, I read on. The plan is to redirect funds from – get this – the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program line. Not familiar with TANF? Let me explain. TANF is the formal, federal name of welfare assistance.  That’s right the Governor is planning to: 1) halt state funding for domestic violence programs; and 2) use federal welfare money in its place. Not that this isn’t problematic enough, the comments on Mr. Galloway’s blog post are what are most troubling and embarrassing. There seems to be a lack of education – and public concern – over the impact of domestic violence on women and men.  Here is what you need to know:

1. Funding domestic violence shelters with federal welfare money may limit who is eligible to receive domestic violence services.

Yes, revised federal plans grant states more autonomy in how welfare dollars are spent, but the laws hold states accountable for reducing welfare rolls and placing welfare recipients in permanent jobs. One could argue that this is a better use of welfare money, especially since there is much criticism about abuse of the welfare system by many. According to Galloway, “The state has justified the use of the money by saying it helped meet the TANF goals of preventing and reducing out-of-wedlock pregnancies as well as encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families.” I may be slow here, but I am having a hard time seeing the correlation between domestic violence/unintended pregnancies/strong families/welfare. Can someone please explain that to me? So, systematically, who is the ideal candidate to receive domestic violence services under the Deal administration? A married, mother from a low-income household? There is huge concern that this may turn single women away from seeking domestic violence services.

2. GA is making a serious statement about what it believes to be important.

According to the GA Budget and Policy Institute:  The governor’s proposed FY 2012 budget eliminated a $1.3 billion deficit by, among other actions, cutting state agency funding by an additional $518 million and underfunding enrollment growth in education agencies and Medicaid by $357 million. The budget cuts are on top of the nearly $2.5 billion in budget cuts implemented over the past three years.

The FY 2012 budget also cuts funds for the lottery funded HOPE program by $307 million, or 38 percent, and the pre-kindergarten program by $19.7 million, or 6 percent. The governor has not included any lottery reserve funds in his lottery revenue estimate; therefore, the lottery-funded programs are based on an estimate of actual lottery revenues. The governor did not propose a restructuring plan for the HOPE program. Despite the budget crisis, Georgia’s population is still among the fastest growing in the nation, resulting in existing and emerging needs, especially during these recessionary times. Existing demands include education for our expanding youth population, infrastructure for our community and economic development, health services for those unable to access the insurance market, services for our aging population, and protection for abused and neglected children, to name a few. The recession has produced additional needs as almost half a million Georgians search for employment. The continued erosion of vital public services will have a negative impact on Georgia’s long-term economic health. Georgia cannot cut its way to prosperity. It takes a vibrant and efficient public sector in partnership with the private sector for sustained economic growth.

3. Domestic violence is a serious issue that affects many Georgians – and that is only among those that have come forward. Many victims are living in silence.

In a single day (2007), it was reported that 1650 victims were served by 28 domestic violence shelters in Georgia. Services provided included emergency shelters, individual counseling, legal advocacy, and support groups for children. Due to a lack of resources, many programs in Georgia reported a critical shortage of funds and staff to assist victims in need of services, such as housing, childcare, mental health and substance abuse counseling, and legal representation. These are statistics gathered during a one-day survey of GA domestic violence programs but, this is just for those that came forward to receive assistance. During that 24-hour assessment, domestic violence program staff in Georgia answered more than 18 hotline calls every hour, providing support, information, safety planning, and resources. (Source)

This decision has gained momentum – the Governor’s budget proposal has passed in both the House and Senate.

“For the state not to invest a single dollar into what are clearly lifesaving services sends a strong signal that these services are not important,” said Nicole Lesser, executive director of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said the governor will make sure the shelters receive the funds they need. But, the use of non-state funds to indirectly fund this issue sends a strong message about state funding priorities. The use of TANF funds for domestic violence programs is indeed a stretch.

To read the AJC Political Insider blog, check it out here.

If you or someone you know is a victim of domestic violence, please visit: Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence

UPDATE: According to the GCADV, the publication of this week’s AJC story has brought renewed interest and attention to DV in GA.  According to their blog, here is how you can share your support:

Please take the time THIS WEEK to call and email each of these six legislators who are in charge of making the final budget recommendations and urge them to restore all $3.7 million in unrestricted state funds to Georgia’s domestic violence programs in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

When each legislator’s office answers the phone, say:

  • Hello, my name is ___________.  I am a voter who lives in __(city)__ in __(county)__.
  • I am calling to urge Senator/Representative __(name)__ to restore all $3.7 million in unrestricted state funding for domestic violence programs in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget.

If time permits, you may also make the following points:

  • Eliminating ALL state funds to Georgia’s domestic violence programs and replacing them with TANF funds is NOT a viable solution, because TANF funding is much more restrictive and cannot be used the way that state funding can.
  • If state funding is eliminated, it would mean that Georgia has NO state dollar investment in the domestic violence services that have saved the lives of hundreds of thousands of Georgians in the last decade alone.
  • Georgia ranks 10th in the nation for domestic violence homicides.  We can’t afford to do anything that might make our ranking even worse.

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