- Associated Press - Friday, September 19, 2014

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) - The Indiana Criminal Justice Institute stuck by its plan Friday to withhold $1.2 million in state aid for domestic violence prevention groups until they detail how they’ll spend the money according to certain state requirements.

The institute’s decision marked a small victory for the prevention groups who took a behind-the-scenes fight with Gov. Mike Pence public this week. But the meeting also included the Pence administration digging in its heels and demanding information on how state money would be spent.

Rules on how the groups can apply for the $1.2 million will be issued Monday, according to the institute’s Board of Trustees Chairman John Hill. Indiana decided to award a separate $1.9 million to the groups Thursday, but the rules will not apply to that.

Hill, who also is one of Pence’s top policy advisers, repeatedly said Friday that the governor cared deeply about domestic violence “for many years,” and that the money would be delivered as soon as possible. “And at no time did he direct anyone to withhold money or to lower funding for domestic violence,” Hill added.

Lawmakers last year approved a $1 million annual increase in spending to combat domestic violence. However, the Pence administration cut $340,000 from the program last year and left $448,000 unspent - despite requests from groups for additional funding.

Groups trying to prevent domestic violence said they have had problems for months getting clear answers and the money the Criminal Justice Institute promised them. Top staff from the governor’s office attended Friday’s meeting with hopes of allaying concerns that had flared up in public over the past week.

Budget Director Brian Bailey said Friday in response to criticism that his office was investigating why the money was cut from the fund last year, despite a legal requirement that the money not be cut, or “reverted” back to the state’s coffers.

The groups also said state officials told them this week another $160,000 would be cut this year, but state officials ardently denied any plans to cut funding this year.

Linda Wilk, Hands of Hope director of the Family Services Society based in Marion, said the state had promised her group a three-month grant to pay for operations in July and they still had not received the money. However, Gary Abell, spokesman for the Criminal Justice Institute, noted that Wilk’s group received the money this past Tuesday.

Wilk said her group has been forced to use a line of credit to stay open.

“We count on those dollars, and to then be told ‘We need a spending plan,’ that’s what the problem is,” she said. “We need those dollars yesterday.”

Laura Berry, executive director of the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, said state shelters had seen a 77 percent increase in calls and requests for assistance since the NFL’s Ray Rice scandal erupted this month. She also said that, because of state cuts made last year, 80 percent of Indiana providers had been forced to lay off staff.

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