Susan Higginbotham, CEO of the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, speaks at an event for Domestic Violence Awareness Month. (Capital-Star photo by Sarah Anne Hughes)
In the Capitol rotunda Monday, it took nearly seven minutes for lawmakers, officials, and advocates to read the names of the 123 Pennsylvanians who were killed in domestic violence incidents last year.
The event, organized by the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, marked October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month.
Susan Higginbotham, CEO of the coalition, said 99 percent of victims face financial abuse, making it nearly impossible for them to leave. Her organization runs a Financial Independence Initiative for survivors that provides lessons and information about budgeting, credit, and affordable housing.
In June, the General Assembly approved a 10 percent budget increase for domestic violence services. There are 59 local programs in Pennsylvania that reach all 67 counties.
“There hadn’t been an increase for domestic violence programs in at least three years,” Higginbotham told the Capital-Star. “So having a 10 percent increase in the state line item … is going to make a difference in counties, because the programs are in need of additional funding.”
But, she added, “General Assistance is also needed.”
Higginbotham was referring to a state-run cash benefits program for poor Pennsylvanians the Legislature voted to eliminate earlier this year. Previously, it provided $205 a month payments to victims fleeing domestic violence, as well as people with disabilities and those in treatment for addiction.
The coalition previously called the program a “lifeline” for survivors.
“Ending domestic violence will take all of us, and it will take a lot of things,” Second Lady Gisele Fetterman told those assembled Monday, pointing to areas including education and affordable housing.
Higginbotham said the coalition is working with lawmakers to introduce legislation that addresses the latter issue.
“Access to housing is a huge impediment to people being able to leave abusive situations,” she said.
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