Last week, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., and U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, led a letter to congressional leadership and appropriators along with 17 senators and 80 representatives asking for robust funding to support services for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.
The COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the severity and frequency of family violence and sexual assault, with increased isolation, economic insecurity and limited access to services leaving victims particularly vulnerable.
In the letter, the lawmakers urge additional funding for programs and grants authorized under the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Child Abuse Act, so that rape crisis centers, shelters and other organizations have the critical funding needed to keep survivors safe.
Signes from Florida included U.S. Reps. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Lois Frankel, D-Fla., Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., Al Lawson, D-Fla., and Darren Soto, D-Fla.,
The letter is below.
Dear Chairman Leahy, Vice Chairman Shelby, Leader Schumer, Leader McConnell, Chairwoman DeLauro, Ranking Member Granger, Speaker Pelosi, and Leader McCarthy:
We write to request that future supplemental appropriations legislation provide support for survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse and for the organizations that serve them. Unfortunately, efforts in Congress to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic have not provided adequate resources for programs and grants that serve survivors during this difficult time. We urge you to prioritize funding for programs and grants authorized under the Violence Against Women Act and the Victims of Child Abuse Act in any supplemental legislation that the Senate and House may consider.
Social distancing, stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, business closures and other measures designed to limit mobility and stop the spread of COVID-19 increase the risk of family violence and sexual assault. These measures coupled with increased unemployment, psychological stress and the negative social consequences associated with COVID-19 leave survivors extremely vulnerable during the pandemic. The National Domestic Violence Hotline has reported that callers are increasingly indicating that their abusers are using COVID-19 to further isolate them from their family and friends. Even if survivors are able to contact friends or family for help, they may be hesitant to seek refuge out of fear that they could expose those close to them to COVID-19. Additionally, a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that the risk for child abuse and neglect during pandemics increases while reports of abuse to child protection agencies tend to decrease because children lose contact with mandated reporters.
The threat of family violence and sexual assault is also increasing while many organizations that serve survivors are struggling to raise funding for their work. These organizations are experiencing a surge in demand for their services even as the pandemic has made traditional fundraising models difficult or impossible. Now is the time for the federal government to provide the support that rape crisis centers, shelters and other organizations need to keep survivors safe. Despite these challenges, survivor advocates have worked diligently to provide the best possible services to individuals in crisis. Survivors must be able to access services during a pandemic that has left many of them increasingly vulnerable to abusers.
Resources provided through the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and Victims of Child Abuse Act (VOCAA) grant program provide critical support for survivors. These programs have effectively allocated funding to groups that work with survivors for decades and are appropriately tailored to address the needs of communities and populations that face unique challenges during the pandemic. On February 5, the Senate unanimously passed an amendment to the concurrent resolution setting forth the congressional budget that expressed support for funding these programs. The bipartisan recognition in Congress that OVW and VOCAA programs should be adequately resourced demonstrates the need to address this funding in future supplemental legislation.
We urge you to provide at least $375 million for OVW and $50 million for VOCAA in a future supplemental appropriations package. This funding will help address the challenges that survivors have encountered during the pandemic. Specifically, we request that you include the following amounts for these programs:
- STOP Violence Against Women Formula Grants: $100 million
- Sexual Assault Services Formula Grant Program (SASP): $100 million
- Transitional Housing Assistance Grants for Victims of Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Stalking: $40 million
- Rural Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence and Stalking Assistance Program: $20 million
- Justice for Families Grant Program: $15 million
- Tribal Governments and Coalitions: $50 million
- Sexual Assault Services Culturally Specific Program: $25 million
- Grants for Outreach and Services to Underserved Populations: $25 million
- VOCAA Grants: $50 million
We thank you for your consideration of this request and look forward to working with you to ensure that survivors are able to access the services they need.