June 22, 2020

Van Hollen, Cortez Masto Push to Ensure Survivors of Domestic Violence Can Access Their Economic Impact Payment

U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), along with 34 Senate colleagues, sent a letter to Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and 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 economy recovery rebates they are legally entitled to under the law. 

“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 order to ensure that survivors can access their payments, U.S. Treasury Department and the IRS should, among other things, dedicate a telephone line for survivors to call and report a change of address or misdirected rebate, create a process with an online PIN to verify a victim’s identity, take 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 issue specific guidance for divorced and separated parents regarding qualified children who are shared between custodial and non-custodial parents. In addition to addressing the above reforms, the IRS and the Treasury should work closely with advocacy groups that specialize in the financial and other issues facing survivors, as well as relevant federal offices including the Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women and Office for Victims of Crime, and the Department of Health and Human Services’ Family Violence Prevention and Services Program, to ensure that solutions are survivor-informed. 

In addition to Senators Van Hollen and Cortez Masto, Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Az.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) also signed the letter.

The full text of the letter is available here.