All of this is, of course, great. It shows that while we still have a long way to go in the battle against domestic violence (and abusers), we are making significant progress. But not all of these changes over the past few years have been for the better. The VAWA budget is currently before Congress, with both the House and the Senate proposing budgets that fall over $100 million short of the 2000 authorization [.pdf file].
One of the biggest shifts in domestic violence policy came about with the passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA, HR 3734, also known as Welfare Reform -- or, as I prefer, the more accurately descriptive term, Welfare Deform). Prior to PRWORA, victims of domestic violence could receive financial aid through the Emergency Assistance (EA) Program, which provided up to $1,200 to be used for housing and/or moving expenses in order get away from an abuser and was a program independent of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) or General Assistance (GA -- the public welfare program that provided cash assistance to poor individuals without children). In other words, EA was not considered "welfare." After PRWORA, GA was effectively dismantled (only allowing those adults with long-term disabilities to collect aid) the Assistance to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) became Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) which included new formulas for work incentives and time limits. Funds for domestic violence victims became part of the TANF program, now known as Temporary Assistance to Domestic Violence Survivors (TA-DVS) rather than the EA program. This means that only those women who qualify for TANF can qualify for TA-DVS (also known as the "domestic violence grant").
In many ways, the switch from the EA program to TA-DVS required few changes. Recipients still receive up to $1200 to be used to ensure safety. For those who are not familiar with the DV grant, the following is the description of "program benefits" as defined by Oregon Department of Human Services (DHS):
TA-DVS benefits will pay the minimum needed to stay safe, up to $1,200 maximum, for families fleeing abuse or to assist families in remaining free from abuse.While the general guidelines for qualifying for TA-DVS (in addition to being a DV survivor) are the same as the guidelines for qualifying for TANF, some elegibility requirements can be waived on a case-by-case basis. For example, some income may not be counted (for example, if the abuser has exclusive control over all finances). In addition, if the elibility requirement puts a person at risk of harm by domestic violence, those requirements will be waived (for example, the requirement to obtain a child support order or citizenship requirements for battered immigrant women).
Benefits are used to pay for safety-related needs, such as:
Payments can be made for child care, transportation, etc. to support completion of this case plan.
- Payments for housing-related costs (rent, move-in costs, mortgage payments, utilities)
- Payments related to setting up a household (furniture, household items, etc.)
- Payments to increase safety (locks, post office box, etc.)
- Payments to replace personal items left behind when fleeing abuse, if not available from other sources (clothing, etc.)
- Other payments related to safety-focused case plan.
Note: benefits are generally paid directly to the landlord or service provider.
The program will remain open for 90 days to allow time for domestic violence survivors to stabilize their living situation and to address immediate safety concrs. Payments (up to $1,200 maximum) may be made at any time during these 90 days. In addition, domestic violence victims may access this program more than once per year if needed for safety.
But the one requirement that will NEVER be waived is the requirement that the beneficiary be pregnant or have dependent children in their custody. Unlike the former EA program, single women* are entirely ineligible for TA-DVS, regardless of their situation. And there is no other program out there that provides financial assistance for these women.** On top of this, getting safe housing can be a major obstacle for single women. Because they are viewed as less of a priority for social housing than women with children, they are less liely to be re-housed by local housing authorities. In addition, most domestic violence shelters provide mostly for families. Very few shelters have more than 1 or 2 spaces available for single women. (The shelter I currently work has space for up to 6 single women, by far the most space available in the state -- and that is divided between 2 facilities.) The majority of homeless shelters take only families. Of the few that take singles, they are often co-ed and can be as dangerous for women as living on the street.
Over the past few years, we have seen a number of programs for single women eliminated, while programs designed to promote and encourage marriage and motherhood are cropping up everywhere. Women who do not go this route, whether by choice, by chance, or simply because they have grown older are being pushed out to the margins more and more. Certainly helping children is of utmost importance. But it is imperitive that we do not make women invisible in the process.
While programs for domestic violence victims were orginally designed to help women (and by extension, their children, if they had any) escape and recover from domestic violence, examination of more current policies shows that these programs are designed to provide services primarily for children and only secondarily for mothers of those children.*** Under the current programs, single women who are survivors of domestic violence have become invisible, and this invisibility is producing dire consequences for these victimized women.
[NOTE: I would like to thank my coworker, C, for the research and work she has done on this issue, much of which I used in this post.]
*For the purposes of this post, the term "single woman" refers to women without dependent children (i.e. women who have never had children, women who do not have sole custody of their children, and women who have grown children).
**Much of what is discussed in this post refers to Oregon. These programs vary from state to state. For example, New York has established a form of Safety Net Assistance (funded through state and local sources) that provides emergency assistance to people who do not qualify for TANF, including benefits identical to TA-DVS. On the flip side, there are states that offer
far fewer benefits than Oregon, even to mothers.
***Since this is a post about single women, I haven't bothered to discuss the problems of even mothers of children obtaining the DV grant. But I should make a note that this can still be a difficult process. Some DHS workers refuse to acknowledge the economic abuse that exists in some families, thereby refusing to acknowledge that a woman may not have actual access to family money. In addition, there are far too many DHS workers who use the lame-ass excuse "well, you're in a safe place now, so you don't need the grant" when talking to women who are in a temporary shelter.