Alaska Senate

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, leaves the weekly Senate Republican policy luncheon in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Sept. 30, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images/TNS)

U.S. Sens. Lisa Murkowski and Bob Casey have introduced a bill to improve family violence prevention efforts and services for underserved populations.

The bill, titled “S. 1275: the Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act,” aims to better existing legislation helping domestic violence survivors receive shelter, crisis counseling, safety planning and assistance recovering from abuse.

If approved, the new bill would increase funding to relevant organizations, expand support for culturally-specific programs and expand resources for underserved populations, including racial and ethnic minorities, people with disabilities, as well as seniors and youth, according to an April 26 news release from Murkowski’s office.

The existing bill is the only federal funding source that supports more than 1,500 organizations and programs and over 240 tribes and tribal organizations in their response to the urgent needs of over 1.3 million domestic violence victims and their children. It originally passed in 1984, most recently reauthorized in 2010 and expired in 2015.

 

What will the new bill do?

The bill promises to increase funding up to $253 million for each of fiscal years 2022 through 2026. Grants for prevention programs will receive up to $150,000.

The National Domestic Violence Hotline would become better equipped to serve underrepresented populations, including American Indians, Alaskan Natives and deaf victims.

A new culturally-specific program will help address the challenges facing victims from racial and ethnic minority populations.

 

How will the bill help tribal populations?

The bill will authorize funding for tribal coalitions and strengthen the capacity of tribes to exercise their sovereign authority to respond to domestic violence in their communities. Tribal grants will be allocated as a set-aside to acknowledge the sovereign authority of tribes.

One way the statue would increase the safety of all Alaska Native families is through installing permanent funding for an Alaska-specific tribal resource center, explained Tami Truett Jerue, executive director of the Alaska Native Women’s Resource Center.

“We look forward to continuing to provide our communities increased safety and healing with laws, policies and local responses rooted in Alaska Native voices, languages and teachings,” she wrote.

 

Domestic violence in Alaska

The problem of domestic violence effects Americans across the board: more than 10 million people in the U.S. are abused each year, and more than one third Americans report that they experienced sexual violence, physical violence or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime.

However, Murkowski wrote that many Alaskans, especially in rural and remote communities, face additional, “unimaginable” obstacles to receiving the help. Alaska Native women are over-represented in the domestic violence victim population by 250 percent, she wrote.

“I have heard the stories from women across the state about how they fell victim to an abusive partner or were in an unsafe living environment and desperately needed a safe place to stay,” she wrote. “Unfortunately, the nearest shelter could be 100 or more miles away and almost always over capacity. Complicating the challenge, the majority of Alaska’s communities are not connected to a road system, and purchasing an expensive plane ticket for themselves — let alone one or more children — is simply out of the question.”

During the pandemic, shelters face even more challenges, Murkowski said. The co-author of the bill Sen. Casey pointed out that the pandemic adds emotional and financial stress to families, increasing the need for services nationally.

“Over the past year, as victim service agencies struggled with the incessant challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic, Senator Murkowski found the time to hear from advocates who daily served their communities and paid attention and believed us when we expressed our challenges,” said Carmen Lowry, executive director at Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.

Contact staff writer Alena Naiden at 459-7587. Follow her at twitter.com/FDNMlocal.