Anti-violence groups look to senate budget

In a tight-budget year, the eyes of many local activists looking to boost domestic violence and youth violence prevention accounts now turn to the Senate, after the House passed a $28.2 billion budget that fell short of some of their aims last week.

Anti-domestic violence advocates were shooting for $10 million, but only received about a tenth of that in House budget.

Those pushing for the popular anti-gang violence program, the Shannon Grant, received a $2 million increase, despite lawmakers, including state Reps. Marty Walsh and Linda Dorcena Forry, pushing for an increase to $15 million from $11 million. The Shannon Grant benefits many groups, including the Dorchester Youth Collaborative in Fields Corner, the Boston Ministerial Alliance and Project RIGHT in Grove Hall.

Other benefits for Dorchester's anti-gang violence programs lay in a line item of the Attorney General's budget. The Dorchester Youth Collaborative plans to spread a $200,000 figure there among programs at Dorchester House, DYC, and the Teen Center at St. Peters in Bowdoin-Geneva. Emmett Folgert at DYC is hoping this funding makes it through the senate.

"It's not a lot of money, but it's a terrible budget year," he said.

Advocates of domestic violence prevention programs, in lobbying for more funds from the House, pointed to 2007, when statewide domestic violence homicides averaged at one a week and led to the highest rate since the early 1990s. Advocates say that may mean that more domestic violence homicides are coming to light, rather than occurring at a higher rate. But that is in turn straining resources that already suffer from cuts during the state's last fiscal crisis in 2002.

"We're going to be heading to the Senate with the same message," said Toni Troop, a spokeswoman for Jane Doe Inc.

Close to Home, a Fields Corner-based domestic violence prevention program, did receive $200,000, which the organization's executive director, Aimee Thompson, said would be used in part to expand the program to Brockton, Waltham and Martha's Vineyard.

"It's both to support the local work and seed" other locations, she said. "It's just a great opportunity." The program works with 65 volunteers who outreach to family and friends and work on prevention projects.

House members, in a budget session which lasted all last week and into early Saturday morning, also signed off on a $1 million increase to $7.7 million for the YouthWorks program for public sector jobs for teens, and a $2.5 million to $5 million for an after school out-of-school time program pushed by Rep. Marie St. Fleur.

But other programs didn't get as far, like the Asian Task Force Against Domestic Violence, a multilingual emergency shelter and services program which doesn't have enough funding for the next fiscal year, according to one of the program's leaders, Lucille Persing.

The House rejected Walsh and Forry's $200,000 amendment for the Black Ministerial Alliance of Greater Boston, Inc., for hiring additional street workers to aid high-risk youth, and a $260,000 Walsh amendment for the Ella J. Baker House, a Washington Street community center, Walsh said.

But the House's addition of $200 million in spending last week and pulling $412 million out of a state stabilization fund is causing concern amongst fiscal watchdogs. The move to withdraw the $412 million out of the state's "Rainy Day Fund" puts the House budget $1 billion out of balance amidst a recession, they say.

"There's no shortage of worthy causes, but we just don't have the revenues to support them," said Michael Widmer, head of the business-backed Massachusetts Taxpayers Foundation.

The Senate is expected to be released next week and debated before the end of the month. The House and Senate will hash out a final version for the governor to edit in June. The new fiscal year starts in July.

Senators, before passing Tuesday an increase to corporate taxes and the state's cigarette tax in order to generate $472 million in revenue, were cautiously optimistic about funds for Dorchester programs.

"We have a couple cracks at the apple here," said Sen. Jack Hart.

The House budget debate also saw Forry's maiden speech, the first speech a representative makes from the podium to the entire House.

Forry, who was sworn in back in 2005, spoke on the state Department of Public Health's youth-violence prevention program, which received a $1 million increase to $3 million. Program supporters are seeking a $5 million increase. "I felt like I needed to take the floor," she told the Reporter.

Asked why it took her three years for her maiden speech, Forry said she speaks with colleagues on the floor of the House frequently. "When I got up there they were like, 'That isn't your maiden speech,'" she said with a laugh.