A state criminal justice board approved $1.9 million in state grants for domestic violence programs across Indiana on Friday – but left another $1.1 million unspent for now as demands for services spike.
The grants mean that 42 organizations will receive the same amount of state money as they did last year – even though the General Assembly voted to increase funding for the programs nearly 18 months ago. State officials say the groups could still qualify for more.
And the total amount available to them could be even higher. State Budget Director Brian Bailey told the board of the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute that the state last year reverted $344,000 in domestic violence money back to its general fund – and is now investigating whether that was a mistake. That money could be restored, he said.
“We need those dollars yesterday,” Linda Wilk, director of Hands of Hope in Marion, told the ICJI board Friday. “There is not extra money. We are not building mansions. We are struggling on a shoestring budget.”
Gov. Mike Pence’s administration pledged the additional funding will be distributed soon and none of the money will be reverted again to the general fund.
“The goal is to move the money quickly, to give it out. It’s not going to revert so we might as well get it out quickly,” said John Hill, the governor’s deputy chief of staff for public safety, who chaired the board meeting Friday.
But ICJI officials say the groups must first provide more information about how they plan to spend the cash – and particularly what additional services or additional costs justify receiving more money. “We take our responsibility seriously,” said Mark Stuaan, an attorney who chairs the subcommittee that recommended the grant amounts. “We’re not just writing checks. We have to make sure the money is spent well and spent wisely.”
That caused a stir in the crowd of more than 50 people in the audience – most of them representing domestic violence prevention and treatment programs across the state – who said they have already provided the ICJI with detailed information about how they plan to spend the money.
In fact, those groups originally requested more than $4 million in funding through ICJI’s existing grant request – amounts that were whittled down through the application process to the $1.9 million approved Friday.
“Our understanding was that all of the money would go out this year,” said Laura Berry, executive director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence and chair of a council that advises the ICJI. “It was the council’s recommendation to the subcommittee that we would award $2.6 million additionally – not $1.9 million.”
Now, ICJI officials say the groups must submit “spending plans” to qualify for additional funding. The guidelines for those plans haven’t yet been released to the groups but Hill promised that would happen no later than Monday and that the state would act quickly to approve them.
Mary Allen, executive director of the ICJI, said the groups have only justified how they will spend the same amount of money they received last year. They still need to explain in detail what they’d do with more.
“In reality, the requests far exceeded even what the (domestic violence) council was recommending for funding,” Allen said. “We have to review all the information to see where the greatest need is.”
The dispute over funding comes as a national conversation about domestic violence has erupted, largely due to a video showing NFL star Ray Rice punching his then-fiancé and dragging her unconscious body out of a hotel elevator.
Since that video went public, calls to Indiana domestic violence organizations have jumped more than 75 percent, Berry said. “We’ve never seen a discussion or a dialogue like we’re having on this issue,” she said.
That’s not a surprise to state Rep. Linda Lawson, a former Hammond police officer, who criticized the Pence administration on Friday for failing to distribute all the money approved by the General Assembly. She said domestic violence programs need the funding.
From July 2013 to June 2014, there were 67 homicides resulting from domestic violence in Indiana, an increase of nearly 20 percent from the previous year. During the same period, 64,000 people called domestic violence hotlines in Indiana, an increase of more than 4,000 calls from the previous year, said Lawson, a Democrat. One in six Hoosier girls has been raped or sexually assaulted.
“I would ask the governor and his fiscal people to put down their bean counters for a moment,” Lawson said. “Just think about lives that are being impacted here and that there is more to running a state than simply keeping $2 billion in the bank.”
Lesley Weidenbener is executive editor of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news service powered by Franklin College journalism students.