Funding for domestic violence services more than tripled in the state budget passed by the General Assembly on April 9, from about $20 million to $70,910,100 — an increase which advocates say could not come soon enough.
Illinois’ funding for domestic violence services has been at the $20 million level since 2009, with its highest total to date reaching about $21 million.
According to the Illinois Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the costs of doing business and meeting current needs exceeds $100 million, and an investment of at least $50 million was needed from the state for a statewide domestic violence safety net.
The ICADV breaks down those costs into five focus areas: providing safe housing ($35.9 million); maintaining current operations and staffing with a thriving wage ($29.7 million); direct services to survivors ($25 million); prevention education ($8.5 million); and community education and outreach ($1.6 million).
Jenny Schoenwetter, executive director and CEO of Harbor House, an emergency shelter and service organization for victims of domestic violence, said the funding increase will be crucial for survivors and services locally and across Illinois.
“We’re talking internally and with our board of directors and staff about what we can do that will reach more people, that addresses violence prevention and domestic violence in a way that we’ve never dreamed possible with this kind of funding,” she said.
Kankakee County State’s Attorney Jim Rowe said it is a critical time for the state to invest in domestic violence services.
“Communities across the state have seen a significant increase in domestic violence during COVID,” Rowe said. “And this additional funding is definitely needed to begin addressing not only prosecution of domestic violence, but also prevention and intervention initiatives.”
The ICADV, composed of agencies and advocates statewide including Harbor House, began discussing the “desperate need” for a funding increase in November 2021, Schoenwetter said.
“Everything is increasing, including prices of running an organization, of operating a shelter, of supporting the community,” she said. “We’ve seen increases in service numbers, increases in hotlines, increases across the board, and yet, if your budget doesn’t increase for 13 years, how can you maintain current operations and pay your staff?”
The group identified the five focus areas where funding is needed and got to work talking with legislators and inviting them to tour domestic violence shelters to bring awareness to the need across the state.
‘IT’S HOMICIDE PREVENTION’
Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, said he toured the Harbor House shelter and witnessed the need in the Kankakee community firsthand.
“There’s a limited number of beds,” he said. “If we are not meeting the need, what happens to those people? Then you are leading to other issues if you don’t have the right kind of services for this particular need.”
That need is evident in Kankakee County, which had the third highest number of domestic violence homicides in Illinois for Fiscal Year 2021, trailing behind only Cook and Lake counties.
During the period from July 1, 2020 through June 30, 2021, there were 68 incidents of domestic violence which led to 78 deaths, according to the ICADV’s annual Domestic Violence Homicide Report.
Cook County had 29 of those deaths; Lake County had seven, and Kankakee County had six. The other 22 counties on the list had between 1 and 3 deaths.
“That’s atrocious, because we’re the 17th by population total, so how are we ranked so high?” Schoenwetter asked. “We need to invest in domestic violence services because ultimately it’s homicide prevention.”
COUNTY STATS ALARMING
Rowe noted that, while Kankakee County’s domestic violence statistics are alarming, they are likely higher than the numbers suggest, as survivors usually do not report every incident.
“Hopefully, a significant portion of those funds will come to Kankakee County, not only because of that statistic, but because of the increase in domestic violence incidents that we’ve seen over the past two years,” Rowe said. “Every day without fail we are seeing domestic violence cases come into our jail and into our courthouse.”
He added that domestic violence cases have the possibility of escalating to the worst violence and the greatest frequency.
Harbor House will take part in conversations with the ICADV and others in early May to collaborate and discuss initiatives that can be tackled with the boost in state funding.
The Illinois Department of Human Services determines how the funding is allocated across the state.
LOCAL FUNDING YET UNKNOWN
Schoenwetter expects those figures will be known within the next month, and the funding would begin July 1, at the start of the new fiscal year.
While it is still unknown exactly how the funding will be divided among Illinois communities — or how long funding will remain at this level — it is definitely landing as a victory among those working to end domestic violence.
“They passed the budget early Saturday morning, and I think you could collectively hear all domestic violence executive directors cheer,” Schoenwetter said. “It blew my mind… It’s just amazing, because we’re going to be able to think differently in how we are approaching domestic violence.”
Joyce said the $70 million funding for domestic violence services was an easy number to come up with due to the immense need, particularly coming out of the pandemic, and because the costs of providing those services have significantly increased.
He added that legislators across the state were advocating for the increase, and it was a bipartisan effort.
Rep. Jackie Haas, R-Kankakee, said that funding for social service programs always seems to be a challenge.
“We had many committee hearings on this issue, and when it came down to the end of session, I was very grateful to see this made it in the final budget,” she said.
“We’ve had a staggering number of increased cases of domestic violence since COVID started,” Joyce said.
He noted that Harbor House saw a 40% increase in staffing requirements between 2021 and 2022.
“That doesn’t even count what was done in the year prior, in the beginning of the pandemic,” Joyce said. “It created an urgent need for those types of services to continue and to get staffing levels to the point where we can then serve the people that are being affected by domestic violence.”
Haas agreed that the boost in funding was timely.
“Most likely because of the increase in people staying home, these types of crimes increased,” she said. “As a result, this funding is much needed and couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Haas added that survivors need to be prioritized so they feel safe and protected in their communities.
“Nobody deserves to go through what they do, and at the end of the day, the best we can do is make sure they have the resources to heal and recover,” she said.
Joyce said he hopes the increase goes beyond a one-year bump.
Federal COVID-19 relief dollars getting pumped into local economies helped the state to rebound its budget, as income levels and revenue increased accordingly, he explained.
“Do I think we will keep up this pace? I do not,” Joyce said. “But if we’ve got an opportunity to check a box when it comes to this type of need, this kind of community that needs our help, we need to do it.”