Image via Shutterstock violence-surging-quarantine-scaled
Image via Shutterstock

A group of lawmakers are seeking more funding to help a system of resources that’s already strained.

A bipartisan coalition of 91 members of the House of Representatives signed a letter this week seeking more funding for domestic and sexual violence programs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Led by Reps. Jackie Speier (California), Brian Fitzpatrick (Pennsylvania), Debbie Dingell (Michigan), Gwen Moore (Wisconsin), and Annie Kuster (New Hampshire), the letter asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to provide funds to cover the surge in demand for the services. 

The March 27 passage of the Coronavirus Aide, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act included $45 million to programs that provide emergency housing and shelter to domestic violence survivors across the country. However, given the “horrifying surge” of domestic violence due to confinement from lock-downs, layoffs and stay-home orders, the coalition said that amount was insufficient to meet the needs of an already strained system. 

“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,” the letter read. “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.”

Another issue the coalition raised in the letter was that the CARES Act provided no funding to address the needs of sexual assault survivors. According to the lawmakers, 40% of sexual violence programs reported an increase in the number of new requests for services since the spread of the pandemic, as well as more dire and complicated requests from current clients. 

“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,” the letter read. 

Other demands included increasing grants for vulnerable communities such as tribes, beefing up the Crime Victims Fund, providing paid leave for survivors and access to unemployment insurance for those forced by domestic or sexual violence to leave their jobs.