Missouri social services could suffer budget cuts

Friday, February 19, 2010 | 5:23 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Representatives of Missouri social service programs say they would have to reduce some programs and limit others if a $60 million state spending cut is passed by the Missouri General Assembly.

The Missouri House Appropriations Committee for Health, Mental Health and Social Services has approved a budget that includes multiple spending cuts to social services such as:

  • domestic violence shelters, like The Shelter
  • crisis pregnancy centers, though none in Columbia would be affected
  • federally qualified health care centers, like Family Health Center of Boone County
  • maternity homes

The reduction includes $2.4 million from domestic violence shelters — half the total funding they receive from the state.

Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence

The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence has 100 programs across the state serving 40,000 women and children. The 50 percent cut would mean cuts across the board for a service that is “critical and life-saving,” said Zachary Wilson, development director for the coalition.

“If you do the math, that’s 20,000 women and children at risk of not being served,” Wilson said, estimating the impact.

Last year, coalition programs had to turn away approximately 9,000 people, and the cut will make that number increase exponentially, he said.

Core services of the program — housing, counseling, skill-building services, safe havens and hot line services — would all be affected, Wilson said.

The coalition is talking to legislators and urging others to look at what's happening and speak their minds, he said.

"There are still a lot of steps left in the (budget) process, so we're trying to stay active, stay motivated and make sure people understand what these cuts would result in," Wilson said.

The Shelter

The Shelter, a domestic violence center in Columbia, would be dramatically hurt by the proposed cuts, said Barbara Hodges, the program's executive director. The money The Shelter receives goes toward bed nights — the number of nights each woman and child in danger can come and stay.

The Shelter houses 200 to 300 women and children each year. Hodges said the budget cut would be between $28,000 and $29,000 and would reduce the number of available bed nights for these women and children by 800.

Despite the proposed cuts, Hodges said Gov. Jay Nixon has been very supportive of the services that shelters like hers provide for the state.

Board members and staff of The Shelter are taking action by contacting legislators and voicing concerns to try and redirect the cuts, Hodges said. Community advocates are also contacting The Shelter and asking what they can do to help.

Family Health Center

The proposed budget cuts would also eliminate $9.5 million in funding for federally qualified health centers like the Family Health Center of Boone County.

The center provides medical care to under-served populations. The cuts would result in a reduction of some of its most important services, executive director Gloria Crull said.

The center is also asking legislators to prevent the cuts.

"I am talking with our legislators to make sure that they are informed about the impact of these cuts on services to their constituents," Crull said.

Alliance for Life

Another organization that would be affected is Alliance for Life, which serves pregnancy resource centers and maternity homes. Its 19 subcontractors receive "alternative to abortion" funding from the alliance.

Marsha Middleton, CEO of the alliance, said the elimination of funding would probably result in staff cuts for many of the pregnancy resource centers.

She also said pregnancy centers would not be able to provide as many services. The funding allows centers to assist with rent, utilities, food and clothing, whichpregnancy centers do not typically have the budget to provide.

One of eight contractors in Missouri, the alliance served 2,280 women in the fiscal year from July 2008 to June 2009, Middleton said.

“We would just like to see these funds remain in place because we know they have been very helpful in making an impact in giving women an alternative to abortion and giving women a choice,” Middleton said. “Many women might choose abortion because they feel like they don’t have the financial means to have this child.”

Middleton said the state gets a lot of value for its funding of the program because alternative-to-abortion centers help meet women's needs beyond costs related to  pregnancy.

“(The budget cut is) going to force them back into the system somewhere else," she said, "and the state is still going to have to look for a way to provide assistance to these clients somewhere.”

Middleton said the alliance is making contacts with members of the House Budget Committee.

"We've just been told that they are looking at how they can maybe restore it back into the budget," she said. "We've not been promised anything."

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