Domestic violence shelters, even though they are needed more than ever as millions are confined to their homes during the coronavirus pandemic, are facing financial struggles. However, a bipartisan group of senators is pushing to provide more funding to those shelters.
The new bill is spearheaded by Sens. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and, through a temporary technical change, would allow domestic violence-related organizations to use federal funding they would otherwise be unable to access unless they matched it with their own fundraising.
Typically, organizations are required by the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act to match a percentage of the funds they receive from the federal government. But many organizations are not able to meet the matching requirement these days because they’ve had to cancel fundraising campaigns and events due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The new bill, called the POWER Act — an acronym for Protect Our Women and Waive Emergency Requirements Act — would waive this requirement.
That would allow organizations to focus solely on helping families rather than worrying about funding during the coronavirus pandemic, which has led to a domestic violence crisis. Since stay-at-home orders were implemented over the last two months, experts have seen an uptick in child sexual abuse and domestic violence reports. And while some lawmakers have already backed measures in response, they believe far more needs to be done to keep vital organizations going.
“Staying home may be a safe place for many during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for those experiencing domestic violence, spending more time at home during the public health crisis threatens their safety and wellbeing,” Casey said.
“As domestic violence incidents increase due to the financial and emotional stress of the pandemic, we must ensure these vital organizations are able to leverage federal funding to help them provide prevention, resources and support to those who are in crisis,” Casey added.
Incidences of violence often increase during emergency situations like the one the world is currently facing, studies show.
Domestic abuse increased in frequency and intensity after crises like 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and Hurricane Katrina. Experts say this is likely because perpetrators have more contact with their families during these times and, as support systems break down in the wake of emergencies, victims are less likely or less able to seek help.
Many domestic violence shelters were already at mass capacity before the pandemic hit, said Catherine Beane, vice president of public policy and advocacy at YWCA USA, one of the organizations that supported the POWER Act.
They need shelter now — not a month from now or a year from now when there’s recovery.
Catherine Beane, YWCA USA
Once the coronavirus spread, YWCA USA and other organizations supporting the bill saw an uptick in demand for space in shelters. Due to COVID-19 social distancing guidelines, domestic violence victims couldn’t be sheltered together, and instead needed to be housed in separate hotel rooms. This led to an immediate increase in expenses and a dire need for more funding. With many tentpole fundraising events canceled and more people pocketing their monthly donations because financial priorities have shifted amid rampant unemployment, many organizations offering domestic violence services are struggling desperately.
“This bill is so critical right now because the individuals who are experiencing domestic and sexual violence and other forms of family violence, they don’t have time to wait for a better time financially for YWCA or any other organization to have room in their shelter,” Beane said. “They need shelter now ― not a month from now or a year from now when there’s recovery.”
“Waiving the match requirement will enable YWCA as well as other non-profits to actually provide the services that are needed when and where they’re needed, and keep families safe,” she added.
Casey and Murkowski, along with dozens of other senators, have previously called on the Trump administration to ensure that intimate partner violence and sexual assault survivors are not forgotten during the pandemic. Two dozen senators wrote a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services in March, requesting more funding and resources for “critical services” for domestic violence shelters. Last month, a bipartisan group of senators wrote two letters urging leadership to include more funding relief in the next COVID-19 bailout bill and asked for more resources specifically for native and indigenous survivors of domestic and sexual violence.
“Even during the middle of a pandemic, [victims of domestic violence] are not going to be forgotten,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who co-wrote the letters to Senate leadership in April. “We have to stand by their side, even when we can’t see them.”