Lawmakers and social workers on Monday condemned budget vetoes they say threaten the future of South Carolina’s 15 rape crisis centers.
“If these vetoes are sustained, it’s not something that any of us want to think about,” said State Sen. Joel Lourie (D-Columbia), “I’m scared to say that, most likely, we would see rape crisis centers in South Carolina either significantly cut back their services or possibly even close.”
The fight is over more than $453,000 in state funds earmarked to the South Carolina Coalition Against Domestic Violence And Sexual Assault (SCCADVASA) to help those centers offer counseling, education, and other help for rape victims. Governor Nikki Haley vetoed the money, saying that public money should not fund private charities and that the earmark “distracted” the state Department of Health and Environmental Control from its “broader mission of protecting South Carolina’s public health.”
Three legislators– two Democrats and one Republican– spoke out in favor of the program at the Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands (STSM) in Forest Acres. “I realize that it’s still a tight budget situation and tough decisions have to be, and were, made on this budget,” said State Rep. Joan Brady (R-Columbia), “But are cost savings the only consideration?”
Haley spokesman Rob Godfrey defended the vetoes in a statement, “What seems to have been lost in some of the discussion about this veto is that the governor actually signed off on increased funding for both rape centers and domestic violence prosecution in this budget. They both went up.”
But that nearly $657,000 in recurring money is not enough, says SCCADVASA Executive Director Pamela Jacobs. She points out that the centers have seen their funding cut by more than 54 percent over the past three years, while the number of rape victims they handle has increased by 24 percent.
STSM Executive Director Ginny Waller said her own group has seen major cuts in the federal funding it normally receives under the Victims of Crime Act. Local donations have also dried up, especially in the state’s more rural areas. Waller said her own office in the Midlands recently expanded to include Sumter County after a charity there dropped its rape center to focus more on domestic violence victims.
“I would not say this is an increase,” she said.
Jacobs read from several letters written by rape survivors in support of SCCADVSA. One from an unidentified victim was addressed to the governor: “By cutting the vital funds to rape crisis centers, you are reiterating the message that rape survivors feel daily– that we don’t matter to lawmakers,” it said.
The South Carolina House of Representatives returns Tuesday to take up the governor’s vetoes. Brady predicted the House would easily reach the two-thirds vote needed to override Haley, moving it to the Senate on Wednesday. Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg) said the funding had been included in a budget proposal which passed the House unanimously in March.