DOMESTIC VIOLENCE SERIES - BATTERED AND BETRAYED - 'Do shelters provide adequate safety?
Women's shelters in Minnesota will be getting less state aid, but the debate about the cuts, enacted during the last legislative session, continues.
Legislators who favored the cuts hang their hats on the per capita cost for shelters here compared with costs in other states, and question why the domestic assault fatality rate remains high despite the efforts of shelters.
Shelter workers warn of impending closures and the likelihood that women and children will have to stay in violent situations.
To Rep. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, the issue is one of protecting the state's citizens, while getting information to understand why so many continue to be victimized.
"I think the thing we really want to know is, 'are the women's shelters protecting our women?,'" she said.
Nelson voted against the omnibus bill that the Legislature passed, she said, because it included cuts to domestic violence programs. Funds shouldn't be cut until lawmakers have better information, she said.
The two Rochester shelters, Nelson said, have conserved and used their resources well, operating at greater than 100 percent capacity. Combined, they have $700,000 in reserves, but nearly half that is targeted for an upgrade to one shelter.
"Why is it we are still having women and children fatalities as a result of domestic violence?" she asked, noting that 16 women and 13 children were killed in domestic violence incidents last year.
Rep. Steve Smith, R-Mound, is concerned that the state spends $4.38 for every resident each year to fund shelters. South Dakota, he said, spends $1.36.
But that's a flawed comparison, say people who work for women's shelters. Judy Miller, director of the Rochester Women's Shelter, said it ignores the fact that Minnesota has been getting by with bare essentials, while other states simply haven't done as much as they should.
Smith said the creation of Gov. Pawlenty's new Office of Justice Programs will provide more oversight of shelter spending.
If the state is spending three or four times what other states do, per capita, he said, and people are still dying, something must be wrong.
"The Legislature has a right to account for the money it spends," he said. "…; I want some answers why we're spending three times what a neighboring state is spending and still having 16 women and 13 children murdered."
Legislators this year didn't have the option to fund shelters the way they've been in the past, Smith said.
"Every spending group that comes before the state Legislature, their particular interest is most important and everyone else takes a back seat," he said. But of the "sky is falling" attitude and suggestion that shelters are going to close, he said, "that's nonsense."
The Rochester shelters have tightened their belts during the past two years: five staff positions have been eliminated, there is a salary freeze, a freeze on training, a limit on transportation, three information Web sites for victims have been eliminated, and follow-up questionnaires are no longer sent to clients.
Ellison suggested shelters seek funding from corporations, individuals and cities to make up the difference from state funding cuts. If shelters show signs of struggling, and approach the point of closure, she said she would make the case to lawmakers and the governor that funding should increase.
"I'm not trying to dispute that (but) when I look at it, I see the glass is half full rather than half empty. …; The state has been very, very fair particularly in sharing these costs." In 2002, Ellison said, all budgets for domestic violence programs totaled $23 million, with the state providing 84 percent.
"That's a very, very fair rate," she said. Even after legislative cuts, she said, the state will still pay 78 percent of the cost.
"It seems reasonable for (shelters) to raise 22 percent," she said.