Group dealing with abuse cases faces fund shortfall

WASHINGTON — The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a spike of domestic abuse and assault situations. As a result, Domestic Violence Intervention Program representatives said it “wreaked havoc” on budget.

The program served 141 individuals during 2020 in Washington County. Overall, the program had a 28 percent increase in requests for services and a 76 percent increase in sheltering costs, according to Executive Director Kristie Fortmann-Doser.

Doser said in three months the Domestic Violence Intervention Program spent almost $60,000 on hotels for emergency services that supported social distancing.

“That’s more than double what we spend the entire previous year,” she said.

There were a few programs that helped, Doser said. There was funding to support housing and rental assistance for individuals struggling to survive in the COVID-19 environment.

She said the organization is struggling with funding for immediate response costs for staff.

“We’re getting great support for rental assistance, not so much for the actual staffing to provide all of that work,” Doser said.

During the legislative briefing last Saturday, she asked how the expenses are going to impact budgets for the upcoming years.

District 84 Rep. Joe Mitchell said there was a correlation between shutting down businesses and school and the increase in domestic violence.

“When the government is shutting down these things and indirectly or directly causing these increases, it’s our job to be able to support those people,” Mitchell said.

District 42 Sen. Jeff Reichman said because teachers were not able to identify students in dangerous situations, cases dropped but didn’t go away.

“This has made it a lot worse,” he said.

Mitchell said he would be supportive of additional funding.

District 39 Sen. Kevin Kinney said he has used domestic violence organizations frequently during his career in law enforcement and understands the importance.

He said people did not think about the impact of shutting down.

“I think that at least we need to look at one-time money,” Kinney said.

Reichman agreed, stating the first round of COVID-19 relief was broad and in the future it needs to be specific to individual cases.