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Janet Mills Criticized For Leaving Domestic Violence Money Out Of Budget

Two years ago, lawmakers provided $5 million for distribution to organizations that work with victims of domestic violence. The proposed state budget this year does not include a similar appropriation, and that omission came under fire at a budget hearing before the Legislature’s Appropriations Committee.

The Maine Coalition to End Domestic Violence and the Maine Coalition Against Sexual Assault told lawmakers the $5 million provided in the last budget was critical for responding to domestic violence cases that surged during the pandemic.

Betsy Sweet, a spokesperson for both organizations, said her clients hoped funding would be continued in this budget.

“It was the first investment that the state had made in these two services in 20 years. Even though we note that the pandemic of sexual assault and violence has increased,” she said.

Sweet said more than 600 people sought shelter because of domestic violence last year, and the number of calls to domestic violence hotlines increased by 22%. Nearly half of the callers needed legal assistance.

The money in last year’s budget was considered a one-time appropriation, but Sweet said the need is so great that it should be part of the ongoing state services budget.

“We hoped that this funding would be continued in this biennial budget and it is not. The $5 million that was originally slated two years ago in the one-time appropriation could not have come at a more critical moment,” she said.

The committee will consider the request as the work on the budget continues over the next several weeks.

Journalist Mal Leary spearheads Maine Public's news coverage of politics and government and is based at the State House.