CHARLESTON -- Gov. Joe Manchin said concerns aired last week that a fund meant to help the poor have a lawyer represent them -- primarily in domestic violence proceedings -- were premature and that the fund would not be cut.
Manchin's proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year included a $250,000 reduction in funding for the Civil Legal Aid Program. Domestic violence advocates last week bemoaned the proposed cut.
"Without an attorney to assist victims of domestic violence through that process, my fear is that [they] could lose custody of their kids, could lose possession of their homes," Sue Julian, team coordinator for the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, told the Charleston Gazette. "They could be forced to stay in a violent relationship."
But Manchin said in a news release that such concerns came at a time when the budget was still in flux.
Manchin's office said the budget proposal that included the cuts was prepared by the state Budget Office and that the governor had not yet had a chance to review the document.
The final budget proposal was delivered to legislative leaders on Thursday as lawmakers prepare to begin a special session today to primarily pass a new budget.
Manchin earlier this year called on department heads throughout state government to make in-house reductions that would total $200 million as the state got caught up in the national recession.
But Manchin said legal aid funding won't be part of the reductions. Manchin's office pointed out that the governor had actually increased funding to legal aid last year by $250,000.
"We were proud to be able to increase that funding last year and will continue our commitment to assist victims of domestic violence," Manchin said in a statement. "This is an important program and I understand the money has been responsibly spent and is helping the victims who need our assistance.
Manchin continued: "While every agency and every line item is studied carefully to determine where we can make reductions to balance our budget, for next year, I have directed our Budget Office and DHHR to find the reductions outside of this program.
"All of us have to step up to the plate and make these necessary adjustments to balance the budget, but in this case, I believe it would be unfair to take them back to the fiscal year 2008 allotment."