March 25, 2020

As Millions Of Americans Are Required To Stay Home Due To COVID-19, Gillibrand Urges Administration To Reinforce Domestic Violence Services And Protect Survivors

Experts Predict Increase in Domestic Abuse and Need for Support Services During Coronavirus Pandemic

U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a champion in the Senate for survivors of domestic violence and sexual abuse, called on the Trump administration to ensure that organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence have the funding and resources needed to continue providing these critical services during the coronavirus pandemic. Reports have shown that emergency situations have historically led to increased reports of domestic abuse to the National Domestic Violence Hotline.  As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, forcing millions of Americans to shelter in place, domestic violence service providers are predicting an increased need for access to emergency childcare and domestic violence shelters and supplies to keep center and program sites safe and secure. In a letter to the HHS’s Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW), Senator Gillibrand, along with Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), expressed concern for the well-being of families who face an increased risk of domestic violence during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus and urged the administration to ensure service providers have the flexibility and resources needed to help victims and survivors of domestic violence.

“Sexual assault and domestic violence are always devastating problems and this pandemic will put New York’s victims and survivors at greater risk — we must support them as they seek assistance,” said Senator Gillibrand. “When people are required to stay home, abusive situations can become even worse. We have an obligation to ensure that providers of services to domestic abuse and sexual violence survivors have the preparation, resources, and funding to address the unique challenges that these victims face during a public health emergency. I will always fight for programs that provide the necessary resources to protect our most vulnerable families.”

The letter was led in the U.S. Senate by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) and cosigned by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Chris Coons (D-DE), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jack Reed (D-RI), Jacky Rosen (D-NV), Tina Smith (D-MN), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Ron Wyden (D-OR), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). 

The full text of the letter can be found HERE and below:

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March 23, 2020

Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson

Administration for Children and Families Department of Health and Human Services 330 C Street, SW

Washington, DC 20201                    

                                                           

Acting-Director Laura Rogers

Office on Violence Against Women Department of Justice

145 N Street, NE, Ste. 10W.121

Washington, D.C. 20530

 

Dear Assistant Secretary Johnson and Acting-Director Rogers:

We write to express our concern for the wellbeing of families who face an increased risk of domestic violence during the outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). We also ask that the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) ensure that the organizations that help victims and survivors of domestic violence have the flexibility, resources, and information needed to continue to provide these critical services during the pandemic.  

In recent weeks, states and cities across the country have taken a variety of steps to mitigate the spread of the virus, including closing schools, limiting access to public spaces and restaurants, and instructing people to shelter in place. Many people are now working from home, while others have been required to take unpaid leave or have lost their jobs. 

An unintended but foreseeable consequence of these drastic measures will be increased stress at home, which in turn creates a greater risk for domestic violence. According to one recent article, emergency situations have “historically led to increased reports of domestic abuse” to the National Domestic Violence Hotline. In addition, domestic violence service providers expect an increase in the need for emergency childcare and domestic violence shelters, as well as for supplies to keep centers and program sites safe and secure.

Many of these programs are administered by your offices and funded through grants authorized by the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act and the Violence Against Women Act. It is critical that your agencies ensure that victims and survivors of domestic violence continue to have access to these vital services. Accordingly, we request answers to the following questions, as well as a telephonic briefing with members of our staff, regarding actions ACF and OVW are taking no later than March 31, 2020:

1. Have the domestic violence programs that ACF and OVW administer seen an increase in need over the past 60 days, as a result of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts in place at the local, state, and federal level? If so, please provide detail, to the extent possible, broken down by state or territory.

2. How have the domestic violence programs administered by your offices been strained as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic?

3. What steps have ACF and OVW taken to prepare for a potential rise in the need for domestic violence programs or services?

4. What will ACF and OVW do to provide organizations an opportunity to request additional financial support to respond to an increased demand for services?

5. What steps has ACF and OVW taken to ensure that survivors continue to have to access to judicial proceedings, including the opportunity to seek a protective order?

6. What steps will ACF and OVW take to provide greater flexibility for service providers who may be required to alter their programs without risking their eligibility for funding?

7. If programs have to close or suspend services due to COVID-19, will ACF and OVW offer grantees flexibility to continue to support the programs’ employees?

8. What information or resources have you made available to domestic violence organizations, particularly with regard to ensuring the safety of front line employees?

9. Have ACF and OVW provided guidance about how organizations should alter their operations in order to maintain services while providing for the safety of staff, including remote or mobile operations? 

10. What additional guidance or resources are ACF and OVW providing domestic violence organizations that serve American Indians / Alaska Natives, rural, and underserved communities?

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We urge you to take immediate action to prepare for a potential increase in incidents of domestic violence and look forward to your prompt response. 

Sincerely,