Funding drops for domestic-violence shelters

By Emily Van Zandt Originally Published February 24, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated February 22, 2013 at 10:17 a.m.
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— Since 2008, fewer marriages and professional bail bonds have meant less money for domestic-violence shelters in the state. With less money coming in from state and federal grants, shelters have had to be creative, opening thrift stores, turning to volunteers and brainstorming new fundraisers to cover expenses.

The majority of state funding for domestic-violence shelters is granted through the Domestic Peace Fund, handled by the Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence. The fund, created in 2003, is fed by revenue from marriage-license and bail-bond fees.

Recent decreases in federal funding have made things worse, leaving shelters in a budget crisis. The shelter in Clinton closed, and many others have cut staff and staff benefits.

“There’s been a steady drop, and you’re seeing two things going on there,” said Jayne Ann Kita, executive director of the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

“Money from marriage-license fees has dropped because there have been less marriages. Bail-bond fees have dropped because instead of getting bail bonds, those involved with the court system are being allowed to get [on-recognizance] bonds, and they don’t have to pay the bail-bond fees. That has been huge.”

When someone is released on recognizance, they are released with a ticket and court date by a law enforcement official rather than visiting a bail bondsman, and the fee that would go to Domestic Peace is not charged.

According to the commission, funding from marriage-license fees dropped from $539,155 in 2008-2009 to $252,477 for the projected current cycle, a decrease of 53 percent. Funding from bail bonds went from $575,041 in 2010-2011 to $347,523 for the projected current cycle, a 40 percent decrease, according to the commission.

This has become problematic when shelter directors have tried to budget using projected funds. Domestic Peace funding is distributed quarterly from the commission. For instance, in the 2011-2012 cycle, directors at the state’s 32 qualifying shelters were asked to budget for $27,000 a piece, but later had to revise to $21,141. Each shelter ended up being awarded $19, 326 for the year.

For the current cycle, directors were told to budget for just $18,750 in funding.

“We are on course to give them that amount, with one more payment still to come,” sad Candy Garland, the commission’s grant director.

Garland said that during the year, additional funding for Domestic Peace is occasionally appropriated from the state’s general-improvement fund, but the commission cannot rely on that funding. A bill filed Feb. 13 by state Rep. Henry “Hank” Wilkins IV, D-Pine Bluff, would grant the Arkansas Commission on Child Abuse, Rape and Domestic Violence a one-time additional funding increase of $5 million. Up to $2 million of that funding would be granted to domestic violence shelters across the state. Wilkins could not be reached by phone or email.

Commission Executive Director Max Snowden said he was aware of the bill and that it is not atypical for bills like this to be filed during the session.

“Usually, there are a couple of general-improvement-fund bills, but at the end of the session, how much we get varies significantly,” Snowden said. “We know about them, but we don’t count on it. If we get it, that’s great.”

Federal funding in recent years has also impacted many shelters in the state. Funding through the Victims of Crime Act was cut 18 percent for the 2012-2013 grant cycle, resulting in an average loss of $20,653 for the 19 shelters in the state receiving VOCA funding, according to the Arkansas Coalition Against Domestic Violence.

Garland said the Domestic Peace Fund is nearly impossible to budget for each year because there’s no way to predict how many couples will marry or how many people will post bail using a professional bail bondsman.

But experts watching trends in marriages and bail bondsmen in the state said they have seen steady decreases in both over the past several years.

William Bailey, associate professor of human development and family studies at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, said that cohabitation, the deep recession and a re-evaluation of values have caused a decline in marriage across the nation in recent years.

“The primary reason for the drop is that more people are living together before

marriage,” Bailey said. “More and more adults who have been married and divorced are also cohabitating.”

Bailey said a similar drop in marriage rates was seen during the Great Depression.

“They declined dramatically because people just couldn’t afford to be married,” Bailey said.

Curt Clark, chairman of the Professional Bail Bond Company and Professional Bondsman Licensing Board, said that bonds from professional bail bonds are down statewide and have been for about two years.

“Those numbers are right; we’re about 40 percent down,” Clark said. “Two reasons for that are the number of people being released [on recognizance] … and that several counties are doing what are called sheriff’s bonds or treasury bonds.”

When defendants post a sheriff’s bond, they put 10 percent of the bond money with the county treasurer, Clark said. The fee that would fund Domestic Peace is not charged. Clark said that many counties are forced to release people on O.R. bonds because of jail overcrowding or inmate health reasons.

“The funding cuts have been very significant; they’ve had to lay staff off and adjust how the services are provided,” Kita said. “If they had support groups before, maybe they now only have them once a week, things like that. It is very hard to cut benefits and insurance benefits for your employees, but that has happened significantly.”

Kita, who has been with the coalition since 2001, said similar budget constraints were felt around 2006, when several shelters in the state were forced to close.

To qualify for Domestic Peace Funds, shelters must meet certain program and fiscal standards, including providing a crisis-intervention hotline that is manned 24 hours a days, seven days a week.

“We’re just like a hospital, open 365 days a year with holidays and everything else,” White County Domestic Violence Prevention Director Kaye Candlish said. “And if you’re cutting staff, you still can’t cut that service, or you’ll lose your funding.”

When shelter directors gather for retreats and meetings, Candlish said, budget cuts are the major topic of conversation.

“The conversation is always, ‘So how are you getting through this?’” Candlish said.

In February, White County Domestic Violence Prevention opened the Hope Restored Thrift Store in Searcy as a new way to fund the shelter, Hope Cottage. Lonoke County Safe Haven opened a similar store in Cabot that has been bringing in around $1,000 per month in revenue since it opened in

November. But if more funding cuts come from the state and federal levels, Safe Haven Executive Director Brenda Reynolds said, the shelter may have to close or turn into an outreach office that would only supply education and support rather than counseling and shelter.

“We see approximately 160 women and children each year,” Reynolds said. “Where are they going to go? They’ll have to take their kids out of the Cabot School District and start shelter hopping.”

Reynolds said she has been told to prepare for more funding cuts, but she’s not sure how long the shelter can stay afloat.

“If we take another cut, we won’t be able to keep our doors open,” Reynolds said.

Staff writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at (501) 399-3688 or evanzandt@arkansasonline.com.

Staff Writer Emily Van Zandt can be reached at 501-399-3688 or emily@syncweekly.com.

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