Yancey County is a small county in the North Carolina mountains. About half the county is state or national park, and it includes the majestic Mount Mitchell, the highest peak east of the Mississippi.
But the serenity of the setting provides no protection against the dangers that affect countless thousands of people, mostly women and children, throughout the nation. In this county of fewer than 18,000 people, families rely on the Family Violence Coalition of Yancey County to provide shelter and help when they face abuse in their homes.
But now the coalition faces its own dangers – cuts in government funding. “Based on per-capita income, we are one of the most impoverished in North Carolina, so we didn’t have a real big safety net or a cushion of funding in the bank,” explained Samantha Phipps, director of the coalition.
“I’ve done this seven-and-a-half years and I’m 50 years old and have a really strong background in human services. But I’m not a miracle maker. I have been as stressed in the past year as I have ever been in my professional life,” Phipps said.
Throughout the country, agencies providing services to victims of domestic violence are struggling. In a survey by the National Network to End Domestic Violence, more than two-thirds of states reported their domestic violence programs had experienced a decrease in funding. At the same time, 88% reported an increase in requests for services.
For Phipps agency, the big hit came in June 2012, which she found out the $13,000 in TANF Domestic Violence it had received would not be coming in the 2012-13 fiscal year. TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, is commonly understood as the replacement for welfare created under the Clinton administration. TANF provides assistance to families facing various crises, including domestic violence – at least it did, until 2012.
That’s when North Carolina leaders decided to cut the amount of TANF that went to domestic-violence services from $2.2 million to $900. (No, that is not a typo.)
The loss of these funds were especially painful because they were the only substantial source of money that could be used as direct financial assistance to domestic violence victims.
“That was monies we traditionally used for emergency services for clients or to get them out of the shelter when they were safe enough and they found an apartment or home,” Phipps explained. “We could help them with first month’s rent or electric deposit, that kind of thing.”
Now Phipps must take time away from supporting domestic-violence victims in order to secure private donations that she can use to pay for critical expenses.
Pat Youngblood, director of Albemarle Hopeline, Inc., has the same struggles: “I’m a counselor; I’m an LCSW [licensed clinical social worker] by trade. And it would be much better if I was seeing an abused person to help them to get to where they need to go rather than to be scrounging around for the next dollar.”
Youngblood’s agency is in Elizabeth City and serves six counties – Pasquotank, Camden, Chowan, Currituck, Perquimans, and Gates. She says securing donations in this rural area, where there are few corporations and many families are struggling financial, is extremely difficult. Her agency must compete against all of the other nonprofits working to improve the lives of people in this economically depressed area, at a time when Hopeline’s services are in high demand. “Ironically, as you get less money, there are so many more stressors in the community and there are oftentimes more requests for services,” Youngblood said.
Youngblood’s organization also saw the disappearance of TANF funds a couple of years ago. Then this year, state leaders acted to phase out funding for the Displaced Homemaker Program.
“It wasn’t a big grant, but still it was an important grant,” Youngblood said.
Displaced Homemaker Programs help women and men who find themselves in need of a job – often due to divorce, a spouse’s unemployment, or a spouse’s death – after being out of the workforce for years or even their entire adult lives. The programs can help pay for training or provide other assistance.
“We served a little over 500 women – and men, actually – in the Displaced Homemaker Program last year, and those people got help with maybe something as simple as a book they needed to take a course, or it could be a course, or it could be helping to write a resume to get a job,” Youngblood explained.
This year’s state budget reduced funding for the state’s 35 Displaced Homemaker Programs, many of which are run out of centers that also provide domestic violence services. Currently, the budget calls for the elimination of state funding for the programs in the next fiscal year, which begins on July 1, 2014.
For agencies like Albemarle Hopeline, the cut is a yet another financial blow that threatens to undermine the provision of services to families in crisis. With the decreases in government funding, Youngblood must take time away from the families she serves in order to raise money.
“I think it’s really wrong that people — like me, for instance – spend an incredible amount of time trying to get money to provide services that are really critical to people who are in violent and abusive situations,” she said. “We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to get money just to sustain those services when we really should be spending our time providing those services.
“It should be a given that as a state and as a nation that we provide services to people that are in those dire straits and have those critical needs – instead of, let’s see how many hundred hoops you can jump through to get that next dollar so the next person who comes to our door is able to get what they need and not turned away,” she continued. “That’s wrong right across the board. In a right world, it shouldn’t be that way. … It used to feel more like we’re in this all together, and that feeling is not so there anymore.”
Phipps worries that more funding troubles are coming. She’s concerned the possibility that awards of some state domestic-violence grants will be competitive, based on the numbers of individuals helped.
“If they start divvying up the money based on population size – the numbers served – of course the metropolitan areas will get more money,” Phipps said. She worries her agency, which is in a small rural county, would find it impossible to compete. “If that happens, there’s no way that we could recover from that.”
If you are a victim of domestic violence or sexual assault, or if you could benefit from the services of the Displaced Homemaker Program, please visit the NC Council for Women’s program directory webpage to find an agency near you.