This piece originally appeared on Ms. Magazine’s digital site
During the pandemic, domestic violence in the U.S. rose by more than 8.1 percent, according to the National Commission on COVID-19 and Criminal Justice—and this number is still increasing. Economic hardships, including unemployment, financial and food insecurity, burdens from child care and homeschooling, have exacerbated the triggers for these incidents. Simultaneously, during the peak of the pandemic, access to safety and support was nearly impossible.
In response to this rise in domestic violence (which the U.N. is calling “the shadow pandemic“), the Biden administration last week confirmed it will allocate $200 million from the American Rescue Plan (ARP) to support services for domestic violence survivors.
“As we all know, the pandemic and its economic impact significantly increased the risks of abuse for victims of domestic violence and made it much harder for them to seek safety and support,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters at a White House briefing.
The support will be funneled through the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act program—the primary federally-funded program focused on emergency shelter and services specifically for victims of domestic violence and their children. Domestic violence services supported will include:
- 296 supplemental grant awards in every state and territory.
- supplementary funding for state coalitions, national resource centers.
- supplemental funding for tribes.
- specialized services for abused parents and children.
- additional funding for national domestic violence hotlines.
“The Biden American Rescue Plan is about the children, their health, their education [and] the economic security of their families,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told her colleagues before the final ARP vote. “This legislation is one of the most transformative and historic bills any of us will ever have an opportunity to support.”
Apart from direct financial relief through stimulus checks, the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief bill includes provisions for other feminist issues that directly and indirectly impact domestic abuse victims—like adequate funding for schools and child care centers to ensure safe reopenings; a temporary increase to the child tax credit; $25 billion in rental and housing assistance and $5 billion in emergency vouchers for those suffering homelessness, domestic violence victims, and victims of human trafficking; $50 million in increased funding to the Title X Family Planning Program; and access to health care through lower health insurance premiums and a 100 percent federal COBRA subsidy.
While the ARP was passed into law this spring, access to benefits have been staggered. The stimulus checks started to be sent out in March; unemployment insurance has been extended until September 6, 2021; the COBRA subsidy is set through September 1; President Biden opened a special health care enrollment period through May 15; and monthly child tax credit checks will start arriving to households in July.
While the next several months will be formative in the sustainability and development of further relief, Biden’s “Build Back Better” three-part agenda is only one-third approved: The American Jobs Plan (in progress) and The American Families Plan (introduced) still need to be passed into law to rescue, rebuild and recover the country.
Extending relief and formally prioritizing the needs of women is essential. Valuing their direct effects on the economy and their essential work within families, relieving their burdens of child care and children’s education, and especially protecting domestic violence survivors will create a sustainable future for all Americans.