Sununu budget calls for $1.2 million state contribution for victim services

  • Republican gubernatorial candidate Chris Sununu listens during a televised debate at New England College in Henniker on Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor staff) ELIZABETH FRANTZ

Monitor staff
Published: 2/13/2019 5:45:07 PM

Gov. Chris Sununu will call for nearly doubling the state funding for victim services provided by the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence and its 13 member crisis centers during his budget address Thursday.

Lawmakers allocated $643,456 in the state’s general fund in each of the last two fiscal years. Sununu will propose that the state contribute $1.2 million in fiscal year 2020 and again in 2021.

Sununu said in a statement Wednesday to the Monitor that the money is essential to help crisis centers continue to do the critical work of protecting survivors of domestic violence and empower them to achieve financial independence.

“Their work is at the core of what we stand for as a state and community,” he said.

The coalition manages the money in a dedicated fund known as the Domestic Violence Prevention Program and distributes it to the 13 crisis centers that serve approximately 15,000 victims of domestic and sexual violence each year. The money is used by crisis centers to accompany victims to court and to hospitals for emergency services, to provide trauma-informed services to children exposed to violence, and to operate domestic violence emergency shelters, in addition to the state’s two 24-hour hotlines.

The money approved each year by lawmakers represents just a piece of the funding puzzle although a significant one. The Domestic Violence Prevention Program was created in 1981 when the state began setting aside $43 of every $50 marriage license fee for domestic violence prevention services. More than a decade later, then-governor Steve Merrill established a general fund appropriation to match the anticipated revenue from the marriage licenses.

That practice continued until the 2012-13 budget cycle when the state contribution was nearly eliminated, leaving only the money collected through fees. As a result, nearly every program in the state was forced to eliminate advocates, each of whom serves approximately 300 victims per year, according to the coalition.

Since fiscal year 2014, lawmakers have allocated anywhere between $52,781 to $643,456 to the prevention fund, with the largest-ever appropriation approved during the last budget cycle thanks to bipartisan leaders in the House and Senate who advocated for the increase, said Amanda Grady Sexton, the coalition’s director of public affairs.

Considering all funding sources, the coalition and its crisis centers would receive about $2.4 million annually under Sununu’s budget proposal which includes the $1.2 million state contribution.

New Hampshire’s crisis centers continue to turn away victims from its domestic violence emergency shelters due to lack of capacity. In the past two years, a total of 1,854 adults and 1,310 children were denied housing. That was during the same time the state contributed more than half a million in support services to the Domestic Violence Prevention Program.

“Finding the strength to leave an abuser and seek support should never be met with a closed door, but rather open arms and adequately funded services,” Grady Sexton said. “Our hope is that no survivor is ever turned away due to a crisis center being underfunded. We must show victims and their children that the state of New Hampshire prioritizes their safety, and that starts by allocating funds to support the lifesaving work being done by our state’s crisis centers.”

In addition to being able to provide safe housing, crisis centers hope to expand their work to help victims achieve financial empowerment, such as through budget planning, saving to afford a down payment on an apartment and restoring their credit. Approximately 98 percent of domestic violence victims experience financial abuse.

“When a survivor comes through our doors, we work tirelessly to help keep them safe and take steps toward rebuilding their lives,” said Paula Kelley-Wall, executive director of the Crisis Center of Central New Hampshire in Concord. “I can’t begin to explain how devastating it is to tell a survivor and their children that they cannot take refuge in our shelter simply because we do not have the capacity.”

The Concord crisis center served 875 victims last year alone but says the need is far greater.

Sununu is also expected to ask for additional funding for the state’s public defender program and the New Hampshire State Police detectives bureau. His address is planned for 10 a.m. before the House and Senate.

(Alyssa Dandrea can be reached at 369-3319 or at adandrea@cmonitor.com.)



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