Budget snubs neediest 

Budget snubs neediest

When YWCA director Cindy Weese considers how a $77,641 cut in state funding for domestic violence programs around the state will affect Missoula, she focuses on a single important service: one-on-one sessions with a clinical psychologist.

The free program was only introduced this year, and that makes it a prime candidate for elimination. But Weese says many women in abusive relationships don’t have any other option for counseling services.

“These are women who don’t have any insurance and who typically don’t qualify for Medicaid either,” says Weese. “They really fall between the cracks and if we can’t afford the therapist, more than likely they will not have access to a therapist.”

Statewide the cut translates into about a 9 to 12 percent reduction in the budgets of similar domestic violence programs. The state will still provide enough funding to receive federal matching dollars, but “It sends the message these programs only deserve the bare minimum,” says Beth Satre from the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.

This reduction in state funding is only a small fraction of the cuts proposed as Gov. Judy Martz and her budget director Chuck Swysgood face the prospect of a $250 million deficit over the next two years. The Department of Public Health and Human Services cuts were unveiled last week by director Gail Gray and Satre says the cumulative effect of entire budget reduction will be greater than any single cut. v“Women in [abusive] situations stay because they don’t see alternatives,” Satre says. “So you have to look at all the cuts. She is contemplating leaving an abusive relationship, but without job training and without child support, it becomes impossible and she stays.” vGray’s proposal hits some big programs such as the Children’s Health Insurance Program with cuts as large as $2.7 million during each fiscal year of the next biennium. It would also limit mental health services and reduce the foster care budget, two cuts Gray warns could have fatal consequences.

And Gray’s proposal outright eliminates funding for other programs such as Big Brothers and Big Sisters as of now. The effect of losing $21,000 in state funding is simple to understand, says Danette Rector, director of the program.

“It means we can’t serve as many kids,” Rector says. “We won’t be able to recruit volunteers and we have to have someone to supervise those matches. We may have to consider making the children on our waiting list wait longer.”

The irony of budget cuts in social services is the effect they have on the future, Rector says, since programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters serve children and prevent greater expenses later.

“Our program is small but it has a large ripple,” Rector says.

“[Children enrolled in the program are] 47 percent less likely than their peers to use drugs and 33 percent less likely than their peers to get involved in violent activities.”

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