Note from Doni: Maggie John, Executive Director of Shasta Women’s Refuge, answered questions regarding Thursday’s news of Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line-item veto of California domestic violence facilities. Shasta Women’s Refuge was among those organizations.
1. When did you first realize Shasta Women’s Refuge was at risk at losing funding during the budget cuts?
It’s been evident over the past couple of years that the California State budget was in trouble. So we anticipated and took cuts from our state funding sources last fiscal year. We accommodated those cuts with layoffs and program elimination. We assumed that they may be cuts again this year and heard from sources that these cuts could range from 10% to 20% of the State’s Battered Women’s Shelter Program (BWSP). On May 22, 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger held a press conference and presented his “May Revise” budget proposal. In that budget he proposed eliminating several programs including BWSP. The budget then went to the State Budget Conference Committee. We, along with the other domestic violence centers in the State, embarked upon heavy advocacy efforts with our representatives, the Governor and the Committee to help them understand the devastating impacts that program elimination would have on victims. On June 9, the committee recommended (and the Legislature agreed) a 20% cut to the program. That would have resulted in a $41,000 reduction to our program. On July 28, 2009, the Governor signed an amendment to the budget that included the complete elimination of the BWSP. The action was retroactive to July 1, 2009.
2. What was the reaction to the news at Shasta Women’s Refuge?
We were stunned when we heard the news. It seem surreal that with a sweep of a pen that a program that had done so much for victims and families had been eliminated. The first concern with staff and Board was trying to find a way to continue providing high quality services to clients. Shasta Women’s Refuge has been helping victims and their families for close to 30 years. This is quite a blow to our legacy.
3. Your press release said that Shasta Women’s Refuge is slated to lose $207,200 as part of Gov. Schwarzenegger’s line item veto of more than $20 million dollars in cuts to nearly 100 California domestic violence shelters and centers. Can you give some tangible examples of how that will impact the north state?
The elimination of the BWSP is a 20% reduction to our already tight agency budget. Staff hours are being reduced and not all shifts will be covered. This can result in clients waiting and response times being longer. Clients come to us to get away from dangerous situations. It takes a great deal of courage for a victim to come in for help. Waiting can result in victims becoming more reticent and leaving without getting help. Any roadblock to immediate crisis intervention can result in physical harm and even death.
4. As director, what would be your first course of action to accommodate these cuts?
We have implemented a short term plan that involves all staff (including myself) taking unpaid furloughs every week. This is equivalent to a 10% pay reduction for all staff. We have eliminated our volunteer stipends and continue to manage expenses. This is not enough, however. We will be dipping into our reserve fund to bridge the gap. We cannot sustain this for too long. We need to find other sources of funding. We continue to look for grants, but the competition is tough. We will be trying various fund raising appeals to get additional community support. This community has been good to us over the nearly 30 years, but we need, now more than ever, the community to pull together and help us help victims. Domestic violence is a community health and safety issue. It impacts each and everyone of us.
5. Is this a done deal?
We think it is. There are some activities challenging the Governor’s action, but we aren’t confident that there will be relief anytime soon, if at all. Senator Yee has proposed legislation to restore a portion of the cuts but it would raid another victim centered fund. So for all practical purposes, we are considering it a reality for the long term.
6. What else would you like us to know?
Shasta Women’s Refuge is committed to providing victims of domestic violence and sexual assault the services they need and deserve. As mentioned earlier, the community can help. In addition to financial support, we can always use volunteers for our crisis line. We are looking for people who have a heart for helping others and can commit to being on call a few times a month. To join this special group of people, volunteers need to take the “Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence Education and Training” (ADJU 106) class at Shasta College. The class runs for 11 weeks from August 18th through October 29th and meets Tuesday and Thursdays from 6:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Shasta Women’s Refuge has a 24-hour crisis hotline number, 530.244.0117. Collect calls are acceptec.