Sen. Charles Schumer Tuesday urged the U.S. Department of Justice to award Suffolk County a federal grant to fund three domestic violence advocates laid off in February.
The nonprofit LI Against Domestic Violence has "already limited new domestic violence cases that have come in. That is a tragedy," Schumer said at a news conference at the county police's Fourth Precinct in Hauppauge. "The federal government cannot turn their backs on victims of domestic violence."
The nonprofit, based in Central Islip, applied in March for a three-year $887,000 federal grant to fund advocates in courts and police precincts. It expects to hear by September whether it will get the money.StorySuffolk loses 3 domestic violence workers
County Executive Steve Bellone Tuesday called funding for the positions a "top priority." But he would not commit to spending county money, as some county lawmakers have proposed, because of the county's budget deficit.
The administration blocked legislation that would have allocated $79,000 to fund the positions for half a year. The county in 2016 faces a budget deficit of $176 million.
"If we had budget surpluses, this wouldn't be an issue," Bellone said at the news conference.
LI Against Domestic Violence received a three-year, $800,000 grant in 2010. The Justice Department's Office on Violence Against Women did not award the grant to Suffolk in 2013 and 2014, although the nonprofit last year was able to fund the positions with private grants.
The advocates work in courts and police precincts, helping victims file police reports, get orders of protection and find services.
The Justice Department awarded $46 million in grants in 2013 for initiatives including enforcement of orders of protection, according to Suffolk officials. In 2014, the federal government had $30.6 million to spend, about the same as this year's level.
Schumer blamed sequestration, a series of broad mandated cuts passed by Congress, for the reduction in federal anti-domestic violence spending.
A spokeswoman for the Office on Violence Against Women declined to respond to Schumer's call for more federal money for Suffolk.
Suffolk County lawmakers said yesterdayTuesday they were searching for money in the county's budget to fund the positions on an interim basis.
"We're still looking for offsets," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), referring to projects that could be cut to pay for the domestic violence positions.