Lawmakers deny Jindal proposal to cut budgets of domestic violence programs

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 - 9:56am

Three budget amendments approved by the House Committee on Appropriations would reject proposed reductions in funding for programs that fight domestic violence in Louisiana.

When Governor Jindal drafted his spending plan, he called for more than a million dollars in cuts to domestic violence programs statewide. That would have caused drastic changes at the Iris Center.

"Staffing is our single biggest cost," said executive director Judy Benitez, "and we really don't have a lot of options if we do have to cut back."

It was only four months ago that mid-year cuts took away 20 percent of its budget.

"Those funding levels have been pretty much the same for about six years, so that was really, really difficult to absorb that," she claimed.

But Monday, state representatives said that funding for places like the Iris Center needs to be a priority, putting back all the money the governor wanted to take away.

"I think that there were folks who really heard what we were saying," Benitez stated. "And they don't want to live in a community where there's no services available for people who are being victimized by someone that they are married to or dating."

The Iris Center provides a shelter for victims of domestic violence, as well as educational programs, outreach, counseling, and other services. It serves residents through its headquarters in Baton Rouge, as well as outreach programs in West Baton Rouge, Ascension Pointe Coupee, Iberville, and East and West Feliciana parishes.

Studies over the years have shown that every dollar spent by groups like the Iris Center saves the government between $9-30 in other costs.

"Law enforcement response, investigation, prosecution, incarceration, clerk of court costs, healthcare costs," mentioned Benitez. "all of that goes down where there's an effective domestic violence program in the community."

The committee approved three different plans, which would give shelters statewide anywhere from $1.1-2.4 million more than Gov. Jindal initially sought. They will not know how much they will actually get until the budget is signed.

In an ideal world, Benitez would love to have her agency's budget cut all the way to zero.

"Our ultimate goal is to end domestic violence in the community," she stated. "We want to have no need for any of this, because the community has an attitude that this is absolutely intolerable under any circumstances."

But that time has not yet come.

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