News Local/State

Domestic Violence Agencies Shocked By Lack Of Funds In Stopgap Budget

From left: Elana Whitsitt, Oksana Whitsitt and Brooke Riddell organize gifts as volunteers gathered to wrap gifts for the women and children of Courage Connection at Trinity Lutheran Church, Urbana, Il on December 15, 2016.

From left: Elana Whitsitt, Oksana Whitsitt and Brooke Riddell organize gifts as volunteers gathered to wrap gifts for the women and children of Courage Connection at Trinity Lutheran Church, Urbana, Il on December 15, 2016. Darrell Hoemann / C-U Citizen Access

Champaign-Urbana’s only domestic violence service provider will not receive about one-third of its $1.8 million budget because it was not included in the state’s stopgap budget.

The provider, Courage Connection, has about $600,000 in contracts with the state that were not included in the stopgap budget, said Executive Director Isak Griffiths. Domestic violence agencies had been under the impression that they had been included in the budget, and in order to get that money, they must spend it and request reimbursement from the state, Griffiths said.

“The state of Illinois expects us to spend more than half a million dollars and maybe – or maybe not – get reimbursed for it in this fiscal year,” Griffiths said. “That’s a huge burden to put on a social service agency.”

Courage Connection provides temporary shelter, legal advocacy services and counseling services to about 800 women and children each year.

The agency is among a number of domestic violence agencies across Illinois that are in “crisis” mode after realizing they weren’t included in the stopgap budget after initial reports stated that they were.

Local police agencies receive more calls about domestic incidents than any other type of crime, a 2015 investigation by CU Citizen-Access found.

Earlier this month, domestic violence agencies found out from the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence that the $660 million that had been set aside for social services in the budget did not include domestic violence, leaving them without funding for the first five months of the fiscal year and no clear funding for the future.

James Dimas, secretary of the Illinois Department of Human Services, confirmed this in an email to domestic violence service providers on Friday, after inquiries by CU Citizen-Access.

“Despite the governor proposing funding for domestic violence programs in both his budget proposal and stopgap proposal, there is currently no General Revenue Fund appropriation for domestic violence programs for Fiscal Year 2017,” Dimas wrote. “We fully intend to pay all domestic violence programs that have contracts with the state in full once the General Assembly passes a balanced budget alongside meaningful structural reforms.”

The state legislature has worsened the financial pressures by not passing bills to release federal “pass-through” funds – money that comes from the federal government and is administered by the state, but the state is not allowed to spend itself.

For Courage Connection, these funds equal about $215,000 a year, of which it has received less than $50,000.

Already, domestic violence service providers had been struggling to make ends meet after slow and inconsistent payments from the state since July 2015 – the beginning of Fiscal Year 2016, when the state never had a comprehensive budget, only filling the holes with stopgap budgets.

“We’ve been at danger of closing for 18 months,” Griffiths said. “Every single agency that is state-funded is honestly at risk for running out of money and having to close their doors.”

Before the budget crisis, Courage Connection regularly employed between 46 and 48 people; 18 months later that number is as low as 38 to 40.

So far, the agency has relied on the generosity of the community to keep its services, but Griffiths said the agency, which is competing with other social services agencies for donations, can only run without one-third of its budget for so long, especially after the agency lost almost $100,000 in federal funding in June.

Griffiths said that Courage Connection is just an example of what’s being seen statewide, including social service agencies taking second mortgages, spending down their cash reserves and cutting staff and services.

“We’re in the position of doing a job for 18 months and being sporadically paid,” she said. “Most people could not be able to keep their heads above water if they weren’t paid consistently for 18 months, and we can’t do it indefinitely. That’s a real risk for every single state-funded agency.”

Social services agencies are especially at risk because they don’t have the resources to lobby the government and make a real impact, Griffiths said.

“The stopgap budget is so that there is enough funding for enough groups that enough people stop complaining, and human services are the bottom of the barrel,” she said.

Griffiths said that while most domestic violence agencies have stayed open, it’s likely that they might start closing in the new year if no funding is approved.

“The state asks us to behave like businesses, but they’re not upholding their end of the bargain,” Griffiths said. “No business would do business with a vendor who didn’t pay their bills for a year and a half.”

In Danville, Crosspoint Human Services, a wide-ranging human services provider that includes the only domestic violence shelter in Vermilion County, has not yet had to cut any services and has not had to lay off any staff members.

Crosspoint, which serves about 500 victims of domestic violence each year, has a shelter, legal advocacy and counseling for victims of domestic violence. Cher Pollock, who oversees the domestic violence programs at Crosspoint, said the organization has seen an uptick in a need for its services in recent years, but that it has also been hurt by the budget crisis.

Crosspoint relies on more than just domestic violence funding, but cuts to social services overall have hurt the organization, she said.

“If your funding is late, it makes it harder and harder to operate. We need to be able to support ourselves to make Crosspoint viable,” Pollock said. “With all the cuts that have happened to human services, it’s very risky.”

If there is no funding, Pollock said that would be disastrous for the agency.

“If any of this funding was eliminated – if none of it was put into the stop gap budget – we wouldn’t be able to stay open,” Pollock said. “We’re in a big historic building, so it’s not only paying staff, it’s also utilities and rent. There’s no way that we could continue operating.”