Kuster, Colleagues Call for Increased Funding for Domestic and Sexual Violence Programs Impacted by the COVID-19 Outbreak
Concord, NH – Today, Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH), founder and co-chair of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, was joined by Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), Debbie Dingell (D-MI), Gwen Moore (D-WI), and 86 other Members in sending a second bipartisan letter urging Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to provide funds for domestic and sexual violence programs. This letter comes in light of the fact that the funds provided in the CARES Act were insufficient to meet a drastically growing need and that no funding was provided to address the needs of sexual assault survivors in any coronavirus relief package.
The Members state in their letter that, “Domestic violence and sexual assault programs are already unable to meet the needs of all survivors. During economic crises, when the demand for services increases substantially, donations decrease, leaving programs with not enough staff to meet the needs of survivors. This is exacerbated by the need to practice social distancing, which is causing programs to change how they deliver services. Domestic violence shelter capacity is shrinking due to the need to keep shelter residents from being in close contact with non-family members. Many shelters do not have the resources to provide hotel and motel accommodations, and as the need increases and shelter capacity decreases, the need for alternative accommodations likewise increases.”
The letter also states, “Before this crisis, rape crisis centers were already struggling to meet the needs of survivors with 84 percent experiencing an increased demand for services and half with a waiting list for counseling services. While many programs lack a trauma therapist on staff, rape crisis centers are now scrambling to transition to remote services. Many advocates do not even have a mobile work phone, yet they are dedicated to ensuring all survivors have their needs met.”
The letter goes on to identify resources and support needed to help survivors. In the short term, that includes increased funding for:
- Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) Sexual Assault Service Program (SASP) by at least $100 million;
- Family Violence Prevention and Services Act by at least $55 million;
- VAWA STOP formula grants to states to provide victim services to address the needs of victims with disabilities, elderly survivors, those in rural areas and in need of housing and legal assistance and those in the family court system and with child custody and visitation needs by $200 million;
- VAWA Culturally Specific Services for Victims grant program and Outreach and Services to Underserved Populations grants by $20 million each;
- Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Continuum of Care Domestic Violence Bonus funds by $100 million.
The letter also calls for ensuring that survivors are able to access their direct cash payments, since some may be living in shelters or undisclosed locations, or living with an abusive partner who may control all the money. Survivors may also have separated from abusive partners but filed taxes jointly for 2019 or, if they have not filed their 2019 taxes, in 2018. Finally, it calls for providing paid safe leave for survivors to take time off to seek medical attention, victim services, or attend to legal matters.
A recent survey of 600 programs conducted by the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence found that 89 percent of programs need emergency stimulus funding to respond to current requests from survivors for support and emergency assistance and 40 percent of programs have experienced an increased demand for services since the onset of COVID-19 both in terms of new requests and more dire and complicated requests from current clients.
The letter can be read here.