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Domestic violence funds fall victim to shifting South Carolina budget

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Women killed by men

People carry silhouettes to represent those killed in domestic violence in South Carolina, part of the annual Silent Witness Ceremony held at the Statehouse each October. File/Grace Beahm/Staff

A shift in state budget priorities could leave shelters and other programs for domestic violence victims without a significant chunk of cash to help battered women and children in their time of greatest need.

Lawmakers scrambling to find cash to pay for ongoing costs related to Hurricane Matthew and other needs have scrapped a number of wish-list items from an early draft of the state budget, including $800,000 requested for front-line domestic violence programs.

Sara Barber, executive director of the S.C. Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, said her group had received similar appropriations for the past two years to distribute to programs. Last year, those funds paid for domestic violence prevention efforts, a new roof for a shelter and nonprofit programs that provide direct help to help victims.

“It was used for a variety of needs to help domestic violence programs that work with victims 24-7,” she said.

The coalition hoped the allocation would be made a permanent part of the budget this year. Instead, the funding disappeared as early budget discussion emerged last week.

Barber said the move was discouraging in light of progress the state has made since significant domestic violence reforms were enacted in 2015. Those changes were adopted in the wake of The Post and Courier’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series “Till death do us part,” which chronicled South Carolina’s ignominious status as the nation’s deadliest state for women at the hands of men.

The funding move came less than three months after a Republican state lawmaker was accused of brutally beating and attacking his wife during Christmastime. Chris Corley, a 36-year-old Graniteville Republican, faces a charge of criminal domestic violence of a high and aggravated nature for allegedly beating his wife in front of their children, then threatening to kill her and himself. He has since resigned his seat.

Lawmakers in Columbia told the newspaper that requests for aid this year have simply outpaced available funds.

Rep. Gary Simrill, R-Rock Hill, noted that roughly $82 million of the general revenue fund this year would go toward matching funds needed to cover the cost of Hurricane Matthew. Another $165 million, he said, needs to be put toward the ailing state pension fund, which lawmakers moved to fix this session.

A House staffer also pointed out that $1.2 million has been set aside to pay for specialized state probation agents to focus on domestic violence cases — a sign of continued state commitment to the issue. That money accounts for part of an 8 percent increase in funds dedicated to law enforcement.

Barber said the probation agency may well need the money but it doesn’t do much good to close one gap in the system while creating a new hole in the safety net for victims.

“You can’t take from one and give to another without recognizing you are going to be depriving services in other areas,” she said.

Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, an Orangeburg Democrat who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, agreed. The probation funds may be needed, she said, “but that doesn’t help shelters or the victims they serve.”

Barber said her group plans to push for the money to be restored. Cobb-Hunter said she plans to look into the matter, as well.

Andrew Brown contributed to this report.

Reach Glenn Smith at 843-937-5556 or follow him on Twitter @glennsmith5.

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