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N.C. Senate bill would be blow to domestic violence victims

By Jill Dinwiddie
Special to the Observer

This week, the N.C. Senate Appropriations Committee considers a bill to eliminate the North Carolina Council for Women and the North Carolina Domestic Violence Commission. Most worrying, the bill consolidates domestic violence, sexual assault and displaced homemaker funding into one fund to be distributed and overseen by the 100 county commissions throughout the state.

N.C. families and corporations rely daily on the good work and wise counsel of our state’s domestic violence service providers, led by the North Carolina Council for Women and the North Carolina Domestic Violence Commission, and SB 664 – intentionally or unintentionally – levels a crippling blow to this effective and vital community resource.

The N.C. Council for Women was established in 1963 to advise the governor, state legislators and policy makers on issues that affect women and their families. The council monitors and ensures accountability for more than 237 statewide grants to local agencies, like Safe Alliance in Charlotte, that provide counseling, shelter, safety and support services to domestic violence victims. Their success depends upon private-public partnerships. Each local agency is directed by a board of community volunteers who raise funds and provide strategic local resources to complement the state’s appropriations.

And the need outpaces services every year. Consider:

• In 2010, local domestic violence programs served 61,283 victims (9,113 of them children) and responded to more than 95,000 crisis line calls.

• In 2012, 6,370 children and 7,120 adults stayed in N.C. domestic violence shelters.

• According to the N.C. Department of Justice, 122 North Carolinians died as a result of domestic violence in 2012.

A few of the worst outcomes of SB 644 as currently drafted are:

• Reduction in services to domestic violence, sexual assault victims/survivors and their children. Only 20 N.C. counties would meet all the new funding criteria.

• Delays in grants to eligible counties. New application, review and approval processes must be designed, staffed and implemented, effectively shutting down programs in small communities. Law enforcement, houses of faith and corporations partner actively with these providers to strengthen families and communities. Where will these groups turn in the interim?

• Elimination of statewide fiscal and programmatic accountability. Currently, volunteer advisory members, Council for Women regional offices and grant administrators provide essential oversight, monitoring, technical assistance and training. How are these county commissions expected to learn how to do this job? North Carolina’s citizens need – and deserve – better resources than SB 664 provides.

Join us today in contacting N.C. senators to ask them to go slowly and work with their expert advisors to craft the best possible legislation. This is too important to our state’s domestic violence victims – and the community organizations that support them.

Jill Dinwiddie served on the N.C. Commission on Domestic Violence and was executive director of the N.C. Council for Women. She is volunteer co-chair of the eNOugh Campaign to End Domestic Violence in North Carolina.
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