February 3, 2013

OUR OPINION LePage's budget belies priority of domestic abuse

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

The issue 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.

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

LePage 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 (and sometimes men) 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.

Housing vouchers, which can secure a safe place for an abuse victim and her or his children with no other resources, are included in General Assistance programs. Under the governor's proposal, however, 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 to help a woman get out of an abusive relationship. Without that money, a battered woman may be forced to stay with an abuser 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 that are already on the edges of poverty. While domestic abuse occurs in families of all income levels, poverty can be an abuser's ally. A victim who doesn't have the financial wherewithal to seek help or move out of an abusive household is especially vulnerable.

If state government is the last resort, and funds for the programs abuse victims need keep dwindling, where will they be able to turn?

If LePage addresses his domestic violence agenda on Tuesday, he also should 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 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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