Wyden, Merkley Join Bipartisan Push to Increase Funding to Protect Survivors of Domestic Violence & Pets in Next COVID-19 Relief Bill

Washington, D.C. – Oregon’s U.S. Sens. Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley called for increased funding for programs that support domestic violence survivors and their pets that were established under the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act.

In a bipartisan letter with 30 other senators to Senate and Appropriations Committee leadership, Wyden and Merkley highlighted how reports of domestic violence have risen during this pandemic, and that domestic violence shelters that harbor pets – or those looking to do so – need increased support under the next phase of Coronavirus relief legislation.

“Reports of domestic violence have risen dramatically across the country in recent weeks as stay-at-home orders subject many victims of family abuse to prolonged periods of isolation with their abuser,” the senators wrote. “Yet despite the prevalence of this problem, most shelters in the United States do not admit companion animals, and this lack of capacity often forces victims to remain in abusive situations out of fear of leaving their companion animals behind.”

“Recognizing the importance of addressing this problem, Congress incorporated the PAWS Act into the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a grant program to help domestic violence shelters accommodate survivors with pets. While the Department of Justice’s Office for Victims of Crime is currently working to get FY20 funding into the hands of shelters, that initial allocation did not anticipate the substantial increase in demand for these services,” the senators continued. “We in turn urge no less than $4 million in additional investment for these ETPSHA grants as we look to the next phase in our efforts to support vulnerable populations while addressing and recovering from this crisis.”

The PAWS Act, signed into law in 2018 as a part of a larger agricultural legislation, expanded existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a survivor’s pet, and provides grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence survivors with pets. Under the bipartisan bill, the full amount of the survivor’s losses for purposes of restitution in domestic violence and stalking offenses must include any costs incurred for veterinary services relating to physical care for the survivor’s pet.

Joining Wyden and Merkley on the letter were U.S. Sens. Gary Peters, D-Mich., Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Cory Booker, D-N.J., Krysten Sinema, D-Ariz., Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Ed Markey, D-Mass., Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., Chris Coons, D-Del., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Bob Casey, D-Pa., Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Tom Carper, D-Del., Tina Smith, D-Minn., Dick Durbin, D-Ill., Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Jacky Rosen, D-Nev., Tammy Baldwin, D-Wisc., Susan Collins, R-Maine, Tim Kaine, D-Va., Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Jack Reed, D-R.I., Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.

The letter is supported by the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, Animal Welfare Institute, ASPCA, Association of Prosecuting Attorneys, National Animal Care and Control Association and the Urban Resource Institute.

“Domestic abusers use every tool, means, and opportunity they can find to exert power and control over their victims, including survivors’ love for their pets,” said Ruth M. Glenn, President & CEO of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. “Along with threatening to harm or kill family members or friends, abusers often threaten to hurt or kill beloved pets. Many survivors may remain in abusive relationships in order to protect the companion animals who love and trust them unconditionally. Domestic violence programs are increasingly seeking to accommodate survivors with pets, but many do not have the resources to house pets on- or offsite, pay for veterinary services, and otherwise provide sanctuary for pets along with their owners. Funding for PAWS Act grants are critical to allowing programs to provide the services that survivors with pets need in order to escape abusive relationships.”

A copy of the letter is available here.

A web version of this release is available here.