February 3, 2013

Our View: Anti-poverty programs fight domestic violence

It's not just about law enforcement. Victims also need financial support to get to safety.

Gov. LePage's State of the State speech is still a few days away, but one thing we are sure it will contain will be an impassioned call for domestic violence prevention.

It has been a key part of his agenda, one of the few areas where he has attempted to look for bipartisan cooperation. It's a subject he speaks about with passion, drawing on his personal experience growing up in an abusive, dysfunctional family.

But while we applaud the governor's leadership on this issue, we question his commitment because of the priorities he has outlined in his budget proposals.

The governor wants to give tools to law enforcement to fight abusers and protect their families at the same time he wants to take away tools that battered women use to get to safety.

In his supplemental budget proposal, the governor would cap aid to municipal General Assistance programs, the source of last resort for people with nowhere else to turn. The aid these programs supply often comes in the form of housing vouchers, which can secure a safe place to live for a woman and her children with no other resources. Under the governor's proposal, when municipal offices reach the limits of their cap, the aid stops.

Last year, cuts were made to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, another important financial bridge that can give a woman enough independence to get out of an abusive relationship. Without the financial security for herself and her children, a battered woman could be stuck with her batterer, on whom she is financially dependent.

Combined with cuts to MaineCare, Head Start and child care programs, the governor's budget puts financial pressure on families who are on the edges of poverty. This creates pressure on domestic violence victims who may not seek help and try to get out of abusive households.

While domestic abuse occurs in families of all income levels, poverty can be the batterer's ally. A victim who can't move out and take care of her children is vulnerable. If state government is the last resort, where will she have to turn?

If the governor addresses his domestic violence agenda Tuesday, he should also explain how his spending priorities would help carry out his support of domestic abuse victims. Otherwise his expressions of concern ring hollow.

Budgets express values, and Gov. LePage should explain how fighting domestic violence can really be one of his core issues at the same time he seeks budget cuts that hurt the very people he says he wants to help.

 

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