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Women’s crisis centers worried about state money

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Directors for North Carolina’s domestic violence and sexual assault prevention programs are worried future funding may face restrictions under the McCrory Administration, leaving the non-profits with less ability to cover overhead costs.

The N.C. Council for Women, housed under the N.C. Department of Administration, has traditionally been a steady source of flexible state funding for programs that address violence against women. This month, the advocacy agency awarded $7.7 million in state funds to 239 women’s crisis centers and non-profits around the state.

But council staff also sent word in September, several months after grants proposals had been submitted, that it “strongly recommended” agencies only use 20 percent of the grant money for overhead costs. The directive touched off concerns among shelter directors that the funding would fall under stricter guidelines than in the past.

Many shelters in rural areas, or those without broad fundraising bases, use the state money to pay for their overhead costs in addition to providing direct services to victims, said Monika Johnson-Hostler of the N.C. Coalition against Sexual Assault, which advocates on behalf of women’s crisis centers. Johnson-Hostler said the agency has yet to define what it considers overhead costs, though she hopes to engage with council staff in coming months.

The sudden recommendation for a cap came as a surprise to many, she said.

“We were told that they were moving ahead with things,” Johnson-Hostler said. “They anticipated that it would be mandatory next year.”

Chris Mears, a spokesman for the N.C. Department of Administration, said the 20 percent figure was only a recommendation and did not affect funding for the 2013-14 fiscal year. He was unable to say who at the agency came up with the recommendation.

“We’re always looking for opportunities for improving the way grants are administered,” Mears said.

Laura Riddick, the elected Wake County Register of Deeds and recently-appointed chair of the 17 –member Council for Women, said there was no discussion of upcoming funding changes at the council’s October meeting.

The Council for Women was created in 1963 by then-Gov. Terry Sanford to look at issues affecting the state’s female residents. In 1998, Gov. Jim Hunt created the Domestic Violence Task Force, which later merged with the Council for Women, with a goal of making domestic violence shelters available in each of North Carolina’s 100 counties, according to the state council’s website.

In July, Gale McKoy Wilkins was hired as the council’s executive director, with a salary of $80,000 a year. Wilkins, 57, graduated from Peace College in 2011, and a work history provided by the Department of Administration includes intermittent work and volunteering at non-profits, though no regular work since 2008.

Mears indicated Wilkins, who also had an unsuccessful 2011 bid for the Raleigh City Council, spent some of her time since 2008 as a caretaker for her parents. She is also expected to receive a graduate certificate for a family life coaching program in December from N.C. State University.

Funding cap prospect worries some

The 20 percent recommended cap for overhead costs rattled service providers because other streams of funding, including federal money from the Violence Against Women Act, can only be used in work that directly aids battered or abused women.

That’s what made the Council for Women money all the more important, so that shelters should use that money to be directors’ salaries, community outreach work on domestic violence, or for things like paying light bills or fundraising efforts, Johnson-Hostler said.

Meredith Holland, who runs My Sister’s House in Eastern North Carolina’s Nash and Edgecombe Counties, said she receives a little over $100,000 in grants from the Council for Women to provide services in two counties. The money goes to pay portions of staff salaries, make repairs at the shelters, conduct community education work and plug in whatever other funding holes the shelters have.

“The money has helped us do what we do,” she said.

She was alarmed when she received word in September about the 20 percent recommendation, considering that the crisis center had submitted its proposed budget and grant proposal several months earlier.

“You can’t just flip your whole funding base around,” she said.

The domestic violence agency is far from flush with cash, she says, and relies on donations for the local United Way as well as individual donors. To save costs, the shelter no longer uses a cleaning service and staff members, including Holland, rotate the responsibility for cleaning the bathrooms and rooms for both the shelters and the agencies.

Jennifer Herman, who runs Boone’s OASIS (Opposing Abuse with Service, Information and Shelter) said she, too, is worried about what will happen if the state funds funneled through the N.C. Council for Women suddenly end up with restrictions that never existed before.

“It’s going to cripple a lot of rural counties,” she said.

Questions? Comments? Reporter Sarah Ovaska can be reached at (919) 861-1463 or sarah@ncpolicywatch.com.

Category: Political News

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