A nonprofit in Suffolk County has laid off three full-time domestic violence case workers, who aided victims in police precincts and courts, after losing a federal grant and private foundation funding.
County legislation introduced April 28 would have provided Central Islip-based LI Against Domestic Violence, which issued the layoffs in February, $79,000 from an account surplus resulting from lower-than-expected gasoline prices.
But County Executive Steve Bellone's administration earmarked the more than $700,000 surplus on April 30 to close the county's budget deficit, effectively blocking its use for other purposes.
The group still has eight domestic violence workers funded by the county.
Since the layoffs, the nonprofit has limited the number of new domestic violence cases it has taken, said Colleen Merlo, executive director of the group.The group was formerly known as Suffolk County Coalition against Domestic ViolenceShe said victims often need help filing police reports, getting orders of protection and finding services.
"When someone comes forward in domestic violence cases, it's often after years of extreme violence. And even at that point, there are times the victim doesn't take a next step and make a police report or get an order of protection," Merlo said.
"We would like the county to make our position more secure," Merlo said. "Domestic violence services need to be funded through the county."
Bellone spokesman Justin Meyers said the fuel account was "embargoed" to save money. The county faces a projected $176 million deficit in the 2016 operating budget.
"Because we're in a permanent state of fiscal scarcity, we have to manage our budget extremely conservatively," Meyers said. He said the county will work with the coalition and take a "hard look" at how to help them.
"The county's fiscal emergency is real, but a domestic violence victim's experience is just as real," said Legis. Kara Hahn (D-East Setauket), who sponsored the bill to tap the fuel savings. "We're committed to find efficiencies to make this happen."
Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley), who co-sponsored the bill, said she agreed that using projected savings from the gas fund wasnat a good option because prices might rise. But aweare going to have to find the money,a Browning said.
LI Against Domestic Violence has been staffing police precincts and courts in Suffolk with advocates since 1989, Merlo said. The group had received grant funding of about $250,000 a year from the federal Office on Violence Against Women for eight years, but has not gotten the grant since 2013.
Merlo said the group received private foundation funding last year to pay for the advocates, but the amount was cut in half his year.
The $79,000 she is seeking from Suffolk would fund the positions for six months.