How the American Rescue Plan will help domestic abuse survivors
The first time, Davida’s boyfriend hit her, she did exactly what experts say a person in her situation should do: she called the police. The 38-year-old North Carolina woman left the apartment they shared, filed a complaint in court, and obtained a protective order.
After her boyfriend threatened to kill her, Davida – who shared her story with The New York Times – fled with her son. She ended up in a shelter in another state. The move was costly — she lost her North Carolina job at a call center just before the pandemic hit. Today, with the help of a career-readiness program at Sanctuary for Families, a shelter and service provider, Davida has succeeded in turning an internship into a part-time job. But a year after her boyfriend upended Davida and her son’s lives with a single wanton act of violence, she and her son are still homeless. “Every day I wake up, I’m starting over,” she said.
For women – and others – like Davida, help is on its way. The recently passed American Rescue Plan includes almost $50 million in aid for service providers who assist survivors of domestic abuse. It also includes hundreds of millions of dollars in housing assistance for survivors who have been trapped during the pandemic with their abusers. That pool of money will be drawn from $5 billion in housing vouchers for several at-risk demographic groups, including those fleeing abuse, assault, dating violence and human trafficking. The vouchers will help address the fact that the vast financial burden of leaving an abusive relationship often begins with housing. And the aid is long-term — resources in the rescue plan for emergency housing assistance are to remain available until 2030.
Advocates hailed passage of the American Rescue Plan.
“A year into the pandemic, many survivors are navigating more severe abuse with fewer resources,” said Deborah J. Vagins, President and CEO of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), a CHN member group. “During the pandemic, domestic violence programs have stayed open, pivoting and working tirelessly to respond to survivors’ needs. They are doing so, however, with shrinking funds in high-stress environments. The American Rescue Plan will provide a much-needed cash infusion to programs that are sheltering and supporting survivors and their children.”
According to NNEDV, the American Rescue Plan provides:
- $180 million in Family Violence Prevention and Services Act (FVPSA) funds for desperately-needed emergency shelter, housing, and other emergency supports in every state and territory.
- $18 million for tribes to support domestic violence survivors as they face disparate impacts from COVID-19.
- Almost $50 million for culturally specific services for domestic violence and sexual assault survivors in order to address the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color.
- $198 million for rape crisis centers, the first federal relief funding targeted specifically to respond to sexual violence.
- $1 million each for the National Domestic Violence Hotline and StrongHearts Native Helpline, both crucial lifelines during the COVID-19 crisis.
Advocates are particularly pleased with the almost $50 million aimed at addressing domestic abuse and sexual assault within communities of color. The need for such funding was originally envisioned by Ujima and the National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Violence. “We advocated for this program as part of our 2020 Advocacy Days and are thrilled to see it in the final bill,” NNEDV said in an email to its allies.
Karma Cottman, Executive Director of Ujima, said COVID-19 exposed social and economic inequities that often allow domestic abuse to thrive, as lockdown restrictions led to more instances of violence. For many communities, Cottman told the Times, it was a “double pandemic.”
“For us, imagining that we will have folks in the White House paying attention, not only to violence against women but to these intersections — it is a deep sigh of relief,” Cottman said.
The legislation also helps domestic abuse survivors in countless other ways. A common theme running through domestic abuse scenarios is housing challenges, unemployment, and difficulties meeting basic household expenses, such as feeding the family and affordable child care. Many aspects of the legislation – the $1,400 stimulus checks, extended UI assistance, expanded Child Tax Credit, and funding for child care – will combine to help victims of domestic abuse.
Abuse is a broad problem that affects one in four women in the U.S., one in seven men, and countless children, according to the National Domestic Abuse Hotline. And experts say incidents of domestic abuse spiked worldwide just weeks into the shutdowns caused by the pandemic last April.
Indeed, those who advocate on behalf of survivors of domestic abuse say there has been a cultural shift in the way the Biden Administration views the issue, compared with the previous Administration. Many advocates believe former President Trump’s policies were overtly hostile toward domestic violence concerns. A prime example: for the first time ever, under Trump’s watch, Congress failed to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, which Biden himself sponsored as a member of the U.S. Senate decades ago. (The House voted 244-172 to renew VAWA earlier this month.)
For her part, Cottman believes that the Biden Administration’s focus on domestic abuse is a welcome shift, the Times reports. The newspaper adds that after years in which providers struggled to gain public attention and protect dwindling budgets, they can begin to think bigger about how to help survivors.
“We are able to really think about, what are the things that our communities need?” Cottman said. “What are the pieces that we can reimagine, while at the same time maintaining funds for core services? You can’t do any of this, without ensuring victims and survivors have places to go.”