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Find funding to help domestic violence victims

In late August, state Rep. Holly Cheeseman, R-East Lyme, announced that she would ask the state legislature — during its planned September special session — to allocate $250,000 in emergency funding to assist domestic violence shelters facing a surge in victims seeking safe havens.

It was a proposal that we endorsed in a subsequent editorial.

Unfortunately, the special session came and went without any action on the funding. Cheeseman attributed her inability to push forward a bill in the Democratic-controlled legislature to the message being sent from legislative leaders and the administration that proposals requiring fiscal expenditures would not be considered.

That stance was understandable. There are many organizations and good causes that are hurting financially due to the ongoing, and now spiking, COVID-19 epidemic. Granting requests from some organizations would have opened the fiscal spigot in responding to demands for others. That would have complicated the special session and potentially aggravated the state’s fiscal problems.

But the need to help victims of domestic violence remains. In fact, it is increasing. The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont needs to find the money to help, perhaps reallocating from other sources or tapping federal relief funding.

A week ago, The Day published a story produced by the Connecticut Health Investigative Team (c-hit.org), a nonprofit news organization dedicated to health reporting, which well documented the challenge facing the nonprofit agencies that assist domestic violence victims.

“These folks really don’t have any other place to go,” Barbara Damon, director of the Prudence Crandall Center in New Britain, told Connecticut Health I-Team reporter Lisa Backus.

The story documented that the 18 nonprofits that form a network of assistance for domestic violence victims faced a $350,000 gap in their budgets through the end of August, a gap that certainly has grown since. These organizations have sought, and obtained, some help from private donors, but not enough to meet demand.

The added costs are tied to victims seeking safety who must be housed in hotels and fed because beds in shelters were filled. According to the I-Team story, shelters have been running at 150% capacity. Due to spacing requirements necessary to discourage the spread of the coronavirus, shelters can only push capacity limits so far.

Katherine Verano, who directs the Safe Futures nonprofit organization that assists victims in the 21 towns here in southeastern Connecticut, reported that from March to August in 2019 the organization spent $7,220 in hotel-related costs. In 2020 the cost over that same period was $67,202.

The pandemic has caused emotional and financial stress in many families, triggers for domestic violence. Abusers, who typically are controlling in nature, have lost control to outside forces. And with children home schooling, and some couples left jobless with no outside outlets, the pressures only ramp up.

Reports of domestic violence actually dropped in the first couple of months of the outbreak. But those who work in the field say that is not because there was a corresponding outbreak of healthy relationships. Instead, victims probably had fewer opportunities to seek help because the abuser was always around. Victims also likely were walking on eggshells. Feeling trapped, they would try desperately not to do or say anything that might set off an abusive partner, say the experts.

But when the economy began to open in late spring and early summer, the calls for help began pouring in, report shelter operators.

We trust the money to help these organizations can be found. In the context of a $20 billion annual state budget it is not a lot, yet it is so important.

Lamont announced Monday that the state will provide up to $9 million in grants to nonprofit arts organizations to help them recover more quickly from the impact of the pandemic. The state will use federal CARES Act funding.

While supporting these venues is important, it would be hard to argue it is more important than assuring domestic violence victims have a safe place to go.

We look forward to the governor making an announcement that aid for these vital nonprofit agencies is forthcoming, too.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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