Following the announcement of the final FY2014 budget, Judy Earle learned that the Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program would see an increase of $100,000 in funding, allowing for the group to restore service hours that were cut at the start of June.
Earle is the executive director of the Elizabeth Buffum Chace Center, a member agency of Rhode Island Coalition Against Domestic Violence. The Coalition operates the Court Advocacy Program out of four Rhode Island courthouses, including Kent County Courthouse.
In a phone interview Friday, Earle explained that the program, which has suffered budget cuts leading to a 70 percent decrease in funding over the past five years, had been suffering. On June 3, the program was forced to close its offices on Mondays because of the lack of funding.
That changed last week when the General Assembly allotted $229,094, $100,000 more than in the proposed budget from the governor. Earle says the program was able to restore full service right away.
“When we heard the news that it is all but guaranteed, we were excited,” said Earle. “We are very glad to be back to full service.”
Although Earle said the funding would not be available until July 1, the program re-opened its office doors on Mondays last week, on June 24.
“We have a way to capture data [on clients coming into the office] and we know clients were missed during those three Mondays we were closed,” she said.
Funding for the Advocacy Program is divided proportionally between the four courthouses. Because Kent County’s Advocacy Program serves roughly 40 percent of the state’s population, providing for 15 cities and towns, Earle estimates that 39 percent of the state funds will come to Kent County’s program.
“It’s fair; it’s a fair way of doing it,” said Earle, who explained that the number of clients serviced is constantly re-evaluated to ensure the different branches receive the necessary funds.
The Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Program provides support and advocacy for victims of domestic abuse as they go through the process of pressing charges and delivering testimony. Earle and her staff at Elizabeth Buffum Chace will help victims connect with the full-time advocates who work in the courthouse.
Although Earle and her colleagues were hoping to have funding restored to $425,000, the level it was five years ago before cuts began, she says the additional $100,000 is helpful.
“We had finally reached a breaking point,” said Earle of the situation before the increase.
Earle says the support of leadership in the General Assembly and the state’s government, especially House Speaker Gordon Fox and Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed, made the difference.
“They were great at supporting this,” said Earle. “We are pleased they listened to our concerns.”
Although the program does receive state funding, more than 60 percent of the program’s budget comes from fundraising efforts. Earle said she is gearing up for the group’s major annual fundraiser reception in August in memory of her late husband, John Earle, hosted by Mayor Scott Avedisian and Beacon publisher John Howell.
All funds raised from the event will go to the John Earle Legal Advocacy Fund to support work in the courts.
For now, Earle says she and her colleagues are thrilled that Monday office hours can be restored and those searching for help will be able to find it, five days a week.