Hirono Calls on Administration to Help Victims, Survivors of Domestic Violence

March 24, 2020, 9:57 AM HST · Updated March 24, 9:57 AM
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US Sen. Mazie Hirono.

Today, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) joined her Senate colleagues on a letter led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Bob Casey (D-Penn.), urging the administration to help ensure that domestic violence victims and survivors receive the resources they need during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Domestic violence service providers are anticipating an increased need in their services in the wake of the severe measures being taken to stop the spread of the virus, including more people working remotely, being forced to take unpaid leave, or losing 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,” the senators wrote. 

“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,” the senators continued.

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“It is critical that your agencies ensure that victims and survivors of domestic violence continue to have access to these vital services.”

In addition to Senators Hirono, Klobuchar, Murkowski, and Casey, Senators Chris Coons (D-Del.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) also signed the letter.

Here is the full letter: 

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.

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