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State cuts close domestic abuse shelters

October 5, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Victims of domestic violence and their supporters protested at the state Capitol Monday as the shelters that serve as a lifeline for so many struggle financially to stay open. State budget cuts have slashed funding to the shelters, forcing some to close and many others to scale back services.Domestic violence groups are worried that abuse is up during this recession as families try to make ends meet. But it is the recession that's also forcing program cuts.

Victims and shelter workers kicked off Domestic Violence Awareness Month by urging leaders to restore state funding to their programs.

Because lawmakers sent Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger a budget this past summer that was unbalanced by nearly a billion dollars, he used his veto authority to slash numerous services, including $16 million from domestic violence shelters across California.

"With just a stroke of his pen, the governor reversed 15 years' worth of work and progress for women escaping violent environments," said state Sen. Ellen Corbett (D-San Leandro).

Former Mrs. California Tracie Stafford remembers what it was like 15 years ago when services were scarce. She doesn't want today's women to experience that.

"My ex punched me in the mouth in front of 30 to 40 people," said Stafford. "Not one person stopped. I was eight months pregnant. That was a signal to me that this was normal, acceptable behavior."

Without state funding, one Sacramento shelter had to cut its hotline staff down to one, which means callers have to wait longer for help.

Six shelters in California have already had to shut down, leaving few options for abused women.

"In fact, a number of them have probably returned to their abusive relationship," said shelter director Niko Johnson.

But the Schwarzenegger administration says with tax receipts way down, every corner of state government is going to have to share in the pain.

"If we can find ways in which to restore this program, we absolutely would love to do so," said Aaron McLear, Governor Schwarzenegger's press secretary. "But unfortunately, the governor can only spend the money we have and at this point, it was a difficult decision he had to make."

If the governor calls a special session, Democrats are ready with a proposal to loan the $16 million from a fund that's supposed to help development of alternative fuel vehicles. If the special session doesn't happen, they would have to wait until January.

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