Nonprofit spotlight: Potential state and federal cuts could mean big reduction in domestic-violence

On April 27, Xpress reported that a $330,000 reduction in Pisgah Legal Services' state and federal funding could leave more than 2,200 local domestic-violence victims without legal assistance. The Asheville-based nonprofit has been scrambling to close the gap but may reduce services.

Pisgah Legal is losing $210,000 a year from the Governor's Crime Commission, a state agency that distributes federal funds. And the U.S. Department of Justice is cutting another $120,000 from what it typically awards the organization. Together, the loss cuts the organization's domestic-violence budget by 59 percent. Last year, according to Pisgah staff, the organization helped 4,300 people escape abusive situations. Staff estimate that the cuts will mean 2,200 fewer victims get legal aid, and that the organization will need to lay off seven attorneys.

"We'd received these funds for several years," says Julie Klip Nicholson, a Pisgah attorney who works with abuse survivors. "We're not really sure what happened. They said there's some reduced funding from the sequester, but I don't know that explains a 59 percent cut."

The funds provide legal representation to help domestic-violence victims secure court protection, custody of their children, and "get out of violent homes," Nicholson says. In her experience, the aid can make the difference between life and death. Earlier this month, information released by the state attorney general showed an increase in domestic homicides in 2012.

Pisgah's Executive Director Jim Barrett remarks, "With this bad economy, we're already seeing people not getting out of domestic violence because they couldn't get a job, and they ended up captive in an abusive relationship … the abuser will use custody [or] household money to keep the person under their control."

He's asking citizens concerned with the cuts to "advocate with the state legislators to find other funding for this work," but while he's hopeful, "so far [we’ve] been in the mode of cutting our services."

PLS is also asking local governments, residents and other nonprofits to help make up the gap. "We're going to need a lot more donations," Barrett notes.

"We hope the community steps up to support the work Pisgah Legal is doing," Nicholson says. "Organizations across the area continue to face challenging funding times, but this is a very substantial loss."

— David Forbes can be reached at 251-1333, ext. 137, or dforbes@mountainx.com.

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