Missouri State Auditor Nicole Galloway released a report Monday which claims government red tape is creating a shortage of services for domestic violence victims.

State Auditor Nicole Galloway, D, explains audit of funding for domestic violence shelters

The audit showed that more than 28,000 requests for shelter went unmet in 2017.  It acknowledges that number includes individuals who are referred to multiple shelters until finding available space but contends the process demonstates that there’s a problem of providing shelter when it’s needed.

The 28,182 unmet requests came in a year when 45,253 incidents of domestic violence were reported, according to 2017 Domestic Violence Incident Report compiled by the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

At a news conference, Auditor Galloway noted that Missouri turns away a higher percentage of victims from domestic violence shelters than five surrounding states.  “There are people in Missouri behind those numbers,” said Galloway.  “Missourians have suffered abuse (that is) many times life threating, and it’s tragic that they’re being turned away from shelters that cannot take them in.”

According to the report, the states with better records for assisting victims are Arkansas, Illinois, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Domestic violence shelters can receive funding from state-mandated fees, various state and federal grants, state tax credit programs, interest income, local fundraisers, and donations.

The audit focused on the funding that was available in 2017 from counties and cities for domestic violence shelters.  It showed that $698,000 in revenues for domestic violence was not generated at the local level due to counties and cities not choosing to collect all domestic violence fees allowed by law.

In addition to a mandatory $5 county fee for marriage licenses, cities and counties can charge up to $4 for criminal case filings for the purpose of funding the shelters.  Counties and the City of St. Louis can also charge an additional $5 for marriage licenses and $2 for civil case filings for the shelters.

The audit determined that implementation of the fees was sporadic because they’re optional and found that 17 counties didn’t impose any of the fees.

County and city officials told the auditor’s office that they didn’t collect the optional fees because they were either unaware they existed or because they had no domestic violence shelters.  One county administrator mistakenly thought the $5 marriage license fee was for homeless shelters and didn’t collect it because there are no homeless shelters within the county.

A failure on the part of cities and counties to collect $4 for nearly 100,000 criminal case filings left nearly $400,000 on the table from the total of $698,000.

Auditor Galloway has recommended that the state legislature consider changes to Missouri law that would expand the adoption of the optional fees.  The audit concluded that state laws concerning the distribution of domestic violence fees are burdensome and unclear, leading to a lack of compliance.

It found that current law requires duplication of paperwork that could be streamlined.  For example, the shelters make requests for funding to their individual counties and cities which number in the hundreds.  The audit suggests that having a state agency designate which shelters are eligible to receive local domestic violence funding would simplify the process.

The probe by the auditor’s office also found that requirements for distribution of the funding are not being met by the cities and counties.  It states that only 43 of the 106 counties and the City of St. Louis – 40 percent – fulfilled those requirements.

The audit further found that local domestic violence fees in some cases are not being dispensed.  State law doesn’t require distribution of the funding to the shelters.

Eighteen counties did not distribute domestic violence fees in 2017 and, collectively, were holding onto $254,000.  In those 18 counties, there were 2,679 domestic violence incidents, amounting to 6 percent of the total of more than 45,000 domestic violence incidents reported during 2017.

In addition, the audit found that the decentralized manner in which domestic violence fees are currently distributed has led to a shortage of funds being dispensed where services are needed.

It suggests that a centralized registration and reporting system for shelters that request domestic violence funds would result in better oversight of the funds.  It noted that three adjacent states, Kentucky, Tennessee and Arkansas already have such a system in place.

The audit recommends that the state legislature change laws to reduce the administrative burden on cities, counties and their shelters and require that local domestic violence fees that are collected be distributed annually.

It also suggested the legislature consider establishing a centralized shelter registration process and centralize collection and distribution of domestic violence fees.  It said the task could be handled by an existing state agency that already oversees domestic violence programs.

The auditor’s office compiled information for its report by working with local governments and the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, a non-profit organization composed of community-based domestic violence programs within the state.

Galloway is a Democrat who is running for reelection in November.