Pa. domestic violence centers receive federal relief

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GETTYSBURG, Pa. -- When Terri Hamrick received the text message from her finance director Tuesday morning, the President and CEO at Survivor's Inc. domestic violence shelter began to celebrate.

"There was a lot of rejoicing," Hemrick said, "because that's going to help us get through another couple of weeks."

Waiting in their bank account was $25,400; a relative drop-in-the-bucket compared to their needs, but any help is needed in the midst of the five-month old budget crisis. These funds came from the federal government; the Family Violence Prevention Services Act supplies the state with money at the beginning of the fiscal year. With the help of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, Governor Wolf released the FVPSA funds to all of the state's 60 domestic violence shelters Tuesday.

Pennsylvania is given $3 million in FVPSA funds, which is prorated over the last five months of the fiscal calendar.

"We're thrilled to receive this funding but five months into this, this has really been a horrendous process for us," Hemrick said.

Survivor's Inc., which has been one of the hardest hit domestic violence shelters resulting from the lack of a state budget, is operating on a day-to-day basis. Currently, Hemrick says they've had to borrow $200,000 from local businesses and groups for basic needs. The trash has not been picked up in weeks because they have been unable to pay the bills. Company cell phone service has been cut off. Travel expenses have not been paid, either.

The building normally has room for 26 people. Currently, 35 are taking shelter at Survivor's Inc. They've had to turn away an estimated 260 women and children since the impasse started July 1, as other shelters across the state are having to say no, as well. "Emergency mode," Hemrick calls it.

"It's been devastating," she continues. "They've been used as political pawns and to put them in this type of situation is unconscionable."

Hemrick speaks with other shelters on a regular basis, and says no one can understand why the state decided to hold onto these federal funds and not disperse the money earlier in the year. If funds were released sooner, she wonders, maybe Survivor's Inc. wouldn't have had to function of the bare minimum.

FOX43 reached out to Governor Wolf's office Tuesday, asking why it took so long to release funds which had been available for months. Jeff Sheridan, Gov. Wolf's press secretary, responded via e-mail saying, "The federal government recently directly the administration to release specific federal funding for domestic violence shelters and the Office of the Budget worked with them to do so in a timely manner." When pressed on why it took so long, the governor's office admitted they did not know they had the authority to release federal funding without a state budget in place.

"There's been a lot of reasons given and not a lot make sense to us," Hemrick says. "It's really unconscionable to us that we have this federal money just being sat on."

More federal money could be on the way to domestic violence centers in Pennsylvania, thanks in large part to Vice President Joe Biden. According to Hemrick, Mr. Biden has advocated to further free up federal money from the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) and the STOP Violence Against Women programs. Those federal dollars could total upwards of $50,000-$60,000 for Survivor's Inc.

However, for an organization which typically operates on a $650,000, the help from the Vice President may only keep the lights on until the end of the year.