Officials, advocates call for restructuring of domestic violence service delivery

The current system for contracting was described as disjointed, creating a bureaucratic labyrinth for providers and service gaps for survivors, during a state Senate oversight hearing.

The New York State capitol building in Albany cast in purple lighting on Oct. 1, 2022 for National Domestic Violence month

The New York State capitol building in Albany cast in purple lighting on Oct. 1, 2022 for National Domestic Violence month Aidin Bharti/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

New York’s multi-agency approach to funding domestic violence services is in need of restructuring, according to both the Hochul administration and advocates testifying at a state Senate oversight hearing Tuesday.

The heads of the state Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Office of Children and Family Services agreed with providers that the state’s approach to contracting was disjointed, creating a bureaucratic labyrinth for providers and service gaps for survivors.

“A provider right now could have six or seven contracts with different state agencies, and that takes time away from providing services,” said Kelli Owens, executive director of the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.

Six state agencies administer the roughly $250 million the state spends on domestic violence services, Owens said. Only $30 million of that comes from state sources, a sum she wants to see grow and become more flexible in the next state budget to make up for changes in federal funding streams. Another $30 million comes from the American Rescue Plan and $185 million comes from other federal sources, including Victims of Crime Act funding, which saw a reduction this year.

“I’m not sure that coordinating all the dollars into one agency is the answer,” Owens said. “What I can tell you is we all ought to [be] sitting down and figuring out, what do we want to accomplish with the money, what’s the public policy behind the money, and how do we coordinate that.”

“Governor Hochul is proud to serve the constituents of New York with the help of the New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence, the only executive-level state agency dedicated to domestic and gender-based violence,” said Aja Worthy-Davis, a spokesperson for the governor, in a statement to City & State New York. “OPDV and all other state agencies are dedicated to working collaboratively to provide necessary resources to survivors as quickly as possible.”

The Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence has been exploring funding models used by other states like California, Oregon, and Washington, which have created more centralized, public-facing contracting systems that are easier for providers to navigate.

That is also the approach providers in New York are advocating for. “We don’t see other states breaking these federal funding streams across five or even six different state agencies for administration,” said Joan Gerhardt, director of Public Policy & Advocacy at the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “All of that bureaucracy is a huge sinkhole for the funding that New York actually contributes to the domestic violence service delivery system.”

Limits on funding for non-residential services have further tied the agencies’ hands, even as the demand for those services has gone up. In 2021, the number of adults and children in non-residential domestic violence programs increased 6% and 14%, respectively, with over 39,000 individuals in non-residential programs overall in 2021, according to the state’s latest Gender-Based Violence Dashboard report.

But according to Suzanne Miles-Gustave, acting commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, federal allocations for non-residential services have not budged in recent years. “If there is any room to add state general funds to augment our federal allocations, that’s always helpful,” she told the committee chairs, Sens. Roxanne Persaud and Sen. Lea Webb.

Part of any funding bump should entail more flexible state sources, both Owens and Gerhardt agreed. “We should stop looking at non-res(idential) and res(idential),” Owens added. “We should look at the individual and what the individual needs. And right now our funding streams are non-res and res.”

In the fiscal year 2024 state budget, Hochul and state legislative leaders included just $5 million dollars in flexible funding for services, according to Owens. In her email, Worthy-Davis said that funding ensures services are “survivor-centered, trauma-informed, and culturally responsive.”

“It’s those types of dollars that will help stabilize victims and survivors quicker, because there may be a need for shelter but there also may be a need for somebody to find housing in their own community,” Owens said.

“Note taken,” Webb said.