Van Hollen, Peters Call for $3 Million in Funding for PAWS Act
Senators Urge Inclusion of $3 Million in Fiscal Year 2022 Budget for PAWS Act Grant Program to Support Victims of Domestic Violence and their Pets
U.S. Senators Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) sent a bipartisan letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee leadership, urging them to include $3 million in their proposed Fiscal Year 2022 budget to support victims of domestic violence and their pets. The Department of Justice’s Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance (PAWS) grant program – which was created through the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act that Peters authored and was signed into law in 2018 – helps provide funding for facilities that harbor survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, and dating violence, as well as their pets.
“Abusers often threaten or inflict violence on pets as a way to intimidate or exert control over their partners and prevent them from leaving,” wrote the lawmakers. “This vital grant program helps the federal government ensure that more domestic violence shelters are able to accommodate victims with pets or arrange for third party pet shelter.”
“If anything, the urgent need for program funding has grown during the pandemic, as victims of family abuse have been subjected to prolonged periods of isolation with their abuser; and stressors, such as COVID-19-related job losses and additional child care burdens from school and day care closures, have increased the likelihood of domestic violence incidents,” they continued. “Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and we hope you will agree to provide $3 million in FY22 to help empower victims of domestic violence to escape their abuse.”
Multiple studies have shown that domestic abusers often seek to manipulate or intimidate their victims by threatening or harming their pets, but according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), only three percent of domestic violence shelters across the country accept pets. The ASPCA cited a Wisconsin study that found 68 percent of domestic violence survivors reported their abusers were also violent towards their animals. A similar study found that as many as 25 percent of domestic violence survivors have returned to an abusive partner out of concern for their pet. A separate 2007 study found that as many as one-third of domestic abuse survivors reported they delayed leaving an abuser for an average of two years out of concern for the safety of their pet.
Recent reports have also indicated that domestic violence increased during the COVID-19 pandemic as a result of individuals being sheltered at home with abusive partners. Moreover, since the grant program was first funded in 2020, demand from shelters for PAWS funding has consistently outstripped available funds.
The letter led by Senator Peters was signed by Senator Van Hollen along with Senators Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Catherine Cortez Mastro (D-Nev.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ben Ray Lujàn (D-N.M.), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.).
The text of the letter is copied below and available here.
Dear Chairs Leahy and Baldwin, Vice Chairman Shelby, and Ranking Member Hoeven:
As you finalize the Fiscal Year 2022 appropriations legislation, we respectfully urge you to adopt the House position of $3 million for the grant program authorized by Section 12502 of the 2018 Farm Bill (PL 115-334), the Protecting Animals with Shelter (PAWS) program. As you may recall, in FY21, Congress appropriated $2.5 million for this program and we thank you for your past support of the previously enacted level. For FY22, $3 million for PAWS funding was requested by a bipartisan group of 43 Senators and 204 Representatives seeking FY22 animal welfare provisions, in letters submitted to the Agriculture Appropriations subcommittees in the spring.
Section 12502 of the 2018 Farm Bill incorporated the language of the PAWS Act (S. 322 in the 115th Congress) and authorized a new grant program to provide emergency and transitional shelter options for domestic violence survivors with companion animals. Abusers often threaten or inflict violence on pets as a way to intimidate or exert control over their partners and prevent them from leaving. Research has found that up to 84 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners abused or killed the family pet. This vital grant program helps the federal government ensure that more domestic violence shelters are able to accommodate victims with pets or arrange for third party pet shelter.
It is important to note that the program is set up as a pass-through, with funds going initially to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) but the grants being administered by the Department of Justice (DOJ). As a result, the President’s FY22 budget request for USDA did not include funding for this program, due to what we understand was a miscommunication between the two agencies. DOJ has since clarified that they do want the program to continue and that additional funds are indeed necessary for that to happen. Additionally, demand for this program has consistently outstripped available funds. In FY20, Congress appropriated $2 million for the PAWS program; there were 40 applications for grants that year, and six grants were funded for a total of $2.2 million. In FY21, Congress appropriated $2.5 million for the PAWS program; there were 22 applications for grants that year, and five grants were funded for a total of $2.42 million, which leaves few funds to carry into FY22.
If anything, the urgent need for program funding has grown during the pandemic, as victims of family abuse have been subjected to prolonged periods of isolation with their abuser; and stressors, such as COVID-19-related job losses and additional child care burdens from school and day care closures, have increased the likelihood of domestic violence incidents.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter, and we hope you will agree to provide $3 million in FY22 to help empower victims of domestic violence to escape their abuse.
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