Testimony at Senate Public Hearing on FY2022 State Budget

Speech by CEO Michele Boronkas on the increase in domestic abuse during COVID and the need for additional funds statewide.



Good Afternoon. Thank you for the opportunity to address the committee today.

My name is Michele Boronkas and I am here on behalf of the thousands of survivors of domestic abuse in New Jersey.  I serve as the Executive Director of Safe+Sound Somerset – designated lead organization for domestic violence in Somerset County.  We provide trauma informed crisis intervention, safety, counseling, advocacy and housing services for adult and child survivors of domestic abuse.

COVID-19 significantly increased the level of danger for survivors and their children. Social distancing and stay-at-home orders increased survivors’ isolation – limited their access to social supports and services – and in many cases intensified abusive partners’ violence and control.  It also changed the way we needed to respond with services.

We were challenged to rethink the traditional models of providing on-site services. With the support of DOW and the Office of the Attorney General’s Division of Criminal Justice, we identified alternate safe housing and transitioned to fully remote service model with no interruption in essential survivor services.

As a result, Safe+Sound Somerset served more than 4,000 survivors in 2020, a 21% increase over 2019.  This increase came with an even greater challenge to our organization, the complexity of the needs of the survivors and resources needed to support them, has been greater than we have encountered in our 40-year history.

Our highly trained staff are faced daily with navigating the layered needs of mental health, financial instability, homelessness and basic sustenance in addition to addressing the trauma and safety needs of domestic abuse.

At the height of the pandemic, emergency funds helped to support services but the resources required to sustain this increased demand are inadequate.  Changes in the federal formula for VOCA funds will result in a 30% cut ($400k) to S+SS essential services this year and the impact of the pandemic on event fundraising has been devastating with a $350k event revenue loss in 2020 and the forecast for 2021 is similar. Loss in revenue equals loss in programs which equals survivors without support and lives in danger.

We appreciate the additional funding that the Governor has proposed for FY2022 but are asking the legislature to make an investment of $3 million beyond that proposal to ensure domestic violence programs can maintain services, continue to equip survivors with the tools and resources they need, and most importantly SAVE LIVES.

Thank you again for the opportunity to address you today and your consideration of this request on behalf of the survivors that we serve; those that have yet to find safety and refuge; and the organizations like Safe+Sound Somerset that work endlessly to ensure there is a safe path forward for domestic abuse survivors in New Jersey.