ASHLAND — A domestic violence and rape victims shelter thanked elected officials Friday with coffee, baked goods and banter following a successful advocacy campaign for additional state dollars to such services.
“I feel like we’re breathing again,” said Rebecca Jentes, program director at Safe Haven.
Jentes said that’s because state Sen. Mark Romanchuk, R-Ontario, and state Rep. Darrell Kick, R-Loudonville, stepped up to address the issue.
In all, $7.5 million of the state’s budget was earmarked for domestic violence programs. Programs are set to receive $5 million in 2021 and $2.5 million in 2022.
Romanchuk said Friday the additional dollars represents a 78% increase in domestic violence spending and 108% in rape crisis funding.
The Ohio Domestic Violence Network, of which Safe Haven is one of 75 members, lobbied state legislators over two years to increase its Domestic Violence Programs line items after a federal cut meant smaller budgets for places like Safe Haven.
President Joe Biden signed into law the Victims of Crime Act (VOCA) Fix on July 22, redirecting federal money to state attorneys general offices and clarifying language that held up additional funding for programs.
Locally, the moves both on the federal and state levels means Safe Haven can maintain programs for victims of domestic violence, rape, human trafficking and stalking, among others.
It’s still too early in the process to know how much of this year’s allocation will come to Safe Haven, Jentes said. The organization submitted applications to the state attorney general’s office recently and still awaits an answer. But the organization’s operating budget — $546,815 this year — is healthy, she said.
Safe Haven’s budget over the last two years experienced cuts up to 35%, Jentes said. Most programs are still afloat, but had the cuts kept up, “we wouldn’t have been able to keep our doors open,” she said.
The cuts came during a time in which domestic violence, statewide, has become deadlier.
“Domestic violence fatalities in Ohio were up by 35% from July 2019 to June 2020 and preliminary data shows that domestic violence homicides continue to rise around the country,” reads a survey conducted by the Ohio Domestic Violence Network.
ODVN said the majority of its member programs reported an increase in domestic violence survivors seeking shelter in 2020 than in 2019.
Safe Haven is not the exception, Jentes said. And to add insult to injury, the center — which can shelter up to 16 people at once — is down three employees. Typically, the organization operates with 15 employees.
The extra state money means Safe Haven can keep the doors open, Jentes said. But she continues to negotiate with city and county officials to see if there is money available through the American Rescue Plan.
The City of Ashland expects a windfall of $2.1 million over the next two years. The county will receive $10.3 million over two years.
Jentes said she’s not confident ARP money will be available to places like Safe Haven.
“But I’m hopeful,” she said. “We’re still negotiating.”
Jentes, however, is grateful. To express that gratitude, she and staff hosted Romanchuk, Kick and Ashland Mayor Matt Miller to the center Friday to thank them for their support.
“It’s our chance to say ‘thank you.’ We often go to our legislators asking for help on something but then don’t take the time to thank them when they deliver,” she said.
Romanchuck said the $7.5 million biennial budget increase was a “big, big increase.”
“But we understood the problem because it was explained really well,” he said. “Increases usually come in around five to 10% so we had to be prepared on why we were asking for that. But we got it done … everything came together.”