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Democrats urge Schumer to fund domestic abuse programs in spending bill

The senators asked Schumer to include funding for programs after the Violence Against Women Act expired in 2018.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asks questions during a hearing on April 27, 2021.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., asks questions during a hearing April 27, 2021.Tasos Katopodis / Pool via Reuters

WASHINGTON — About a dozen Democratic senators are asking Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to revive Violence Against Women Act programs in a sweeping legislative package focused on the social safety net.

In the letter obtained exclusively by NBC News, the senators said they want the measure to include funding for programs at the Justice Department that help victims and survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence, which they said is “critical” since such incidents have “sharply increased” over the last year.

“During the pandemic, reports suggested that abusers were using COVID-19 to isolate their victims, withhold financial resources, and refuse medical aid,” they wrote. “Service providers struggled to meet the need for services including crisis intervention, shelter and transitional housing, and legal assistance.”

The group of senators, led by Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, requested at least $100 million for a government program that provides direct assistance to sexual assault victims. They also asked for at least $100 million for grants that are given to states to help communities “develop and strengthen effective law enforcement and prosecution strategies to combat violent crimes against women and to develop and strengthen victim services,” according to the Justice Department.

The letter was also signed by Democratic Sens. Dianne Feinstein of California; Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut; Mazie Hirono of Hawaii; Cory Booker of New Jersey; Kirsten Gillibrand of New York; Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire; Tina Smith of Minnesota; Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts; and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

The senators also requested funding for grants to tribal governments and organizations, to programs that deal with child abuse and rural domestic violence, as well as to a disability program.

Democrats are trying to use a workaround of the Senate rules to pass a $3.5 trillion spending bill, which would only require a simple majority to pass but has limits on what can be included in the measure.

There have been numerous reports of a spike in domestic violence incidents during the pandemic. The Council on Criminal Justice found that incidents rose by more than 8 percent following the implementation of stay-at-home orders, according to a February 2021 report.

Congress failed to renew the Violence Against Women Act in 2018. In April 2019, the House voted to reauthorize the law for five years, but then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., decided not to bring it to the floor. The House voted again on a renewal of the law in March but the Senate has not taken it up since Democrats would need some Republican support.

Democrats have also been urging the Senate to include immigration changes and provisions to address climate change in the $3.5 trillion plan.