For two years, a coalition of national advocacy organizations worked closely with congressional staffers to draft an enhanced version of a bill to reauthorize the Family Violence Prevention Services Act (FVPSA), one reflecting the diverse needs of domestic violence victims, priorities of Indian tribes, and the national movement. This coalition included a Tribal Workgroup including the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center (AKNWRC), National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), StrongHearts Native Helpline, and the Alliance of Tribal Coalitions to End Violence (ATCEV).
The FVPSA provides critical support for shelters, coalitions, training and technical assistance centers, children’s services, emergency response hotlines, and prevention initiatives, and is the only federal grant program dedicated to domestic violence shelter and supportive services. It is the primary source of funding for these services for Indian tribes.
On December 12, 2019, the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed a package of legislation, S. 2971, inclusive of portions of the draft. The progress made toward reauthorization of FVPSA is the result of partnership between congressional champions and the movement to protect Native women. In July 2019, Senators Bob Casey (D-PA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced S. 2259. In November 2019, House Representatives Lucy McBath (D-GA), Gwen Moore (D-WI), Tom Cole (R-OK), and John Katko (R-NY) introduced a companion bill H.R. 5041.
These bills, S. 2259 and H.R. 5041, expand grant programs and make many needed improvements so that more survivors have access to support and safety.
“While S. 2971 as passed by the HELP Committee makes slight improvements, S. 2259 and H.R. 5041 provide a more complete and better pathway for providing Native victims with the advocacy services so desperately needed,” said Lucy Simpson, Executive Director of NIWRC. “We will continue to advocate on the importance of moving this critically needed legislation forward, ensuring that it aligns more closely with the actual needs of the victims we all aim to serve.”
According to a 2018 annual survey of the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV), in just one day, domestic violence programs across the country were unable to meet 9,183 requests from survivors.
Native survivors of domestic violence urgently need increased services, and NIWRC welcomes the HELP Committee’s vote to move the reauthorization of FVPSA, S. 2971, forward. S. 2971 includes some of the important enhancements that the national coalition advocated for by recognizing the role of tribal domestic violence coalitions, the StrongHearts Native Helpline—a national Indian domestic violence hotline, and the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center. The national coalition will continue to work with both the Senate and the House to more closely align a final bill with the more fully enhanced provisions in S. 2259 and H.R. 5041.
“We are thankful for the recognition of the unique role that tribal coalitions play in supporting tribes and tribal organizations to address domestic violence and look forward to ongoing negotiations to secure the tribal resources so badly needed,” said Dawn Stover, Executive Director for ATCEV.
The tribal improvements in S. 2259 and H.R. 5041 reflect the needs of domestic violence victims and priorities of Indian tribes and our coalition, including but not limited to the following:
- Increasing the overall funding authorization level to address very low per-program funding levels and provide access to FVPSA funds for more tribes and programs not currently funded.
- Strengthening the capacity of Indian Tribes to exercise their sovereign authority to more fully respond to domestic violence in their communities by increasing the current 10% tribal allocation to 12.5% off the top of appropriations.
- Authorizing recognition and meaningful funding for tribal coalitions to provide Indian tribes and tribal organizations with technical assistance and training on developing and strengthening responses to domestic violence.
- Authorizing recognition and funding for the currently funded Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center.
- Authorizing recognition and funding for the currently funded StrongHearts Native Helpline to serve as the national Indian domestic violence hotline.
The national coalition does not support the straight reauthorization of FVPSA, S. 85, introduced by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), because it lacks increased support for survivors.
“S. 85 falls short of our coalition’s call for improvements to the law,” said Simpson. “Given the growing call of families and grassroots organizing against the injustice of missing and murdered Indian women, and resulting state and federal attention, the need for advocacy services for Native victims is urgent.”
Funding Under the FVPSA 2020 Reauthorization Must Increase
While all federally recognized Indian tribes are eligible to apply for tribal FVPSA funding, unfortunately the current funding level prevents funding all the tribes. NIWRC applauds the FVPSA office for funding over 250 tribes and tribal organizations, yet this number must increase. Currently fewer than half of all federally recognized tribes receive FVPSA funding.
“Typically, the largest number of tribes funded are in Alaska and California (between 45 to 70 tribes), followed by Nevada, Oklahoma, and Washington (13 to 23 tribes). All other states have fewer than ten tribes funded through FVPSA. To meet the need for shelter, tribal programs contract with hotels, utilize safe homes, and access non-Native shelters outside of their villages, communities, and reservations.” Fewer than 50 tribal domestic violence shelters currently exist. FVPSA funding must increase to support additional Indian tribes to provide lifesaving shelter and services.
Forty-two years ago, January 1978, Tillie Black Bear provided testimony to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights at a historic hearing titled ‘Battered Women: Issues of Public Policy’ about the lack of shelters and support for victims. Six years later in 1984, because of the groundswell of advocacy from survivors like Tillie and their advocates, FVPSA became federal law. We are long overdue for these tribal enhancements to increase shelter and supportive services for all tribes.