By Katherine Tully-McManus
Senate Democrats are urging President Joe Biden to provide strong backing for the Violence Against Women Act in his fiscal 2022 budget request, in light of increased reports of domestic violence during the pandemic and lack of supplemental funding for the law’s programs.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., along with 26 other Senate Democrats sent a letter to Biden on Friday, asking the president to prioritize support for Justice Department programs that provide services for survivors of gender-based violence in his fiscal 2022 budget request to Congress.
“We are very concerned that, as a result of the pandemic, cases of domestic violence and sexual assault have increased in communities across the country. Local law enforcement report more domestic violence-related calls and rape crisis centers are seeing increased need for services,” the senators wrote. “The pandemic has also made it more difficult for service providers to respond to the increased need for crisis intervention, legal services, and transitional housing.”
Biden was the original sponsor of the measure in the Senate when it was first passed in 1994.
While Congress passed a slate of emergency funding bills last year to address an array of crises linked to the pandemic, no additional funding was provided for VAWA programs at the Justice Department. Supplemental funding was included for programs authorized under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act, but not VAWA.
“While the absence of supplemental funding has been challenging for all Department of Justice grantees, survivors of sexual assault and those from communities of color are in particular need,” the senators wrote.
More than half of all Indigenous women are subject to sexual violence in their lifetime and, for them, murder is the third-leading cause of death, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. The only grant program for community organizations that provide culturally specific services under the Sexual Assault Service Program is among those strained for funding.
“We additionally request that the federal government fulfill its trust responsibility to Indian Tribes by providing equitable resources to American Indian and Alaska Native communities to address gender-based violence,” they wrote.
The House is scheduled to take up a VAWA bill the week of March 15, House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced this week. It may be more than a month before the Biden administration submits its budget request to Congress and even then, appropriators in both chambers will have to negotiate funding details within the Commerce-Justice-Science Appropriations bills. But a Biden budget with VAWA prioritized could give the effort some momentum.
House Democrats mounted a strong effort to reauthorize VAWA in recent years, but negotiations on a Senate version fizzled over gun provisions. Democrats wanted to lower the criminal threshold to bar someone from buying a gun to include misdemeanor convictions of stalking and a broader swath of domestic abuse crimes. The law currently applies to felony convictions and a subset of misdemeanors.
A quarter of women experience severe intimate-partner physical violence, and 1 in 7 have been stalked by an intimate partner to the point where she felt very fearful, or believed that she or someone close to her would be harmed or killed, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
Earlier this week, Klobuchar teamed up with Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski to urge the Federal Trade Commission to do more to protect domestic violence victims’ personal information online, as the pandemic complicates access to resources for help.
The senators warned acting Chair Rebecca Slaughter about victims’ phone numbers, email addresses and other data being revealed, putting them in danger.
The pair asked if the FTC has the resources to protect victims from the data broker sites and how they can prevent the collection, purchase and sale of data from vulnerable populations.