(Washington, DC) – U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) and Maggie Hassan (D-NH) sent a letter with a group of 35 Senators, led by Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV), to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Internal Revenue Service (IRS) Commissioner Charles Rettig urging them to take action to ensure that survivors of domestic violence can access their Economic Impact Payment. Domestic violence survivors face unique barriers that can keep them from being able to access their economic recovery rebates they are legally entitled to under the law.
In May, Senator Shaheen sent a letter to Secretary Mnuchin and Commissioner Rettig raising this issue in response to concerns voiced by domestic violence survivor advocates in New Hampshire.
“The recovery rebate authorized by the CARES Act has been an essential lifeline for Americans suffering economic hardship during the pandemic, but unfortunately, victims of domestic violence face significant barriers in accessing their rebate,” the Senators wrote. “Research has shown that 99 percent of victims experience economic abuse as part of domestic violence. In our current environment, stimulus payments are a crucial mechanism of support for these victims. Some survivors have lost income or lost their jobs due to COVID-19, and may be trapped with or feel forced to return to an abusive partner to avoid homelessness. Access to domestic violence services, from shelters to protection orders, has also been limited by COVID-19, making it even harder for domestic violence survivors to maintain safety.”
The Senators continued, “The barriers keeping domestic violence victims from accessing their rebates are varied and significant. Victims of domestic violence may be unbanked, have no permanent address, or have no access to the resources needed to file a tax return, making it difficult, if not impossible, for them to obtain their stimulus payment through the methods currently prescribed.”
In their letter, the Senators outlined a list of actions the administration should take to address concerns surrounding domestic violence survivors’ access to their stimulus payment, which include: a telephone line for survivors to call and report a change of address or misdirected rebate, a process with an online PIN to verify a victim’s identity, proactive steps to ascertain the proper address and banking information for taxpayers if a pending “innocent spouse claim” or “Victim of Domestic Violence” indicator is on a taxpayer’s account and much more. In addition to addressing these reforms, the Senators also encouraged the IRS and Treasury Department to work closely with advocacy groups that specialize in the financial and other issues facing survivors to ensure that solutions are survivor-informed.
The letter can be read in full here.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly impacted the lives of survivors of domestic and sexual violence, including their ability to seek help and meet their basic needs. The pandemic has also provided new ways for abusive partners to leverage power and control, including the withholding of federal stimulus checks,” said Amanda Grady Sexton, Director of Public Affairs for the New Hampshire Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “We are grateful for the support of Senator Shaheen and other members of Congress for advocating for the needs of survivors, and addressing the very real experiences of financial abuse that prevent survivors from acquiring, using or maintaining financial resources.”
The New Hampshire Congressional Delegation is actively working to provide more resources and services to domestic violence victims nationwide. Senators Shaheen and Hassan have called on Congressional leadership multiple times to include additional funding to support the victims of family violence, domestic violence and dating violence in the fourth COVID-19 legislative package. Senator Shaheen has led efforts in the Senate to establish basic rights and protections for victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. Her bill, the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act, was signed into law in 2016 and created the first federally codified rights specifically for sexual assault survivors and for the first time allowed survivors the opportunity to enforce those rights in federal court. Last year, Shaheen introduced the bipartisan, bicameral Survivors’ Bill of Rights in the States Act to build on the Survivors’ Bill of Rights Act by incentivizing states to pass legislation that guarantees the survivors rights included in the federal legislation. For the third year in a row, Senator Shaheen – the ranking member of the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that funds the Office on Violence Against Women— successfully added the highest funding amount ever for Violence Against Women Act programs in the fiscal year (FY) 2020 government funding legislation, totaling $502.5 million.