Committee Advances Legislation to Protect Vulnerable Children and Strengthen Families
Murkowski Acknowledges Progress, Calls for Continued Efforts
Today the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee advanced bills to the full Senate to improve how we protect vulnerable children, fund domestic violence shelters, and help families across the nation. The bills, which were reported favorably out of the HELP Committee, include legislation to strengthen programs intended to keep children safe, protect families from and prevent violence, support strong communities, increase effective interstate background checks for child care employees, and increase the number of health care providers in rural areas.
U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a member of the Committee, recognized the progress made towards meeting the needs of underserved populations, including reauthorization of the Family, Violence, Prevention, and Services Act (FVPSA) which helps survivors of domestic violence receive services such as emergency shelter, crisis counseling, safety planning, and assistance recovering from financial abuse and housing insecurity. First authorized in 1984, the FVPSA ensures that local domestic violence shelters and programs are able to keep their doors open. The programs serve over 1.3 million Americans every year and has been expired since 2015. Building on her leadership to address law enforcement and public safety issues and the crisis of missing, murdered, and trafficked Native women, Senator Murkowski has worked hard to improve the current FVPSA legislation.
“We have made incredible progress in Alaska in recent months. Attorney General Barr has looked at the situation in Alaska and declared a public safety emergency in the state because of the lack of public safety and the impact on domestic violence. I thank Senator Casey, a great partner to work with as we have advanced the FVPSA legislation,” said Senator Murkowski. “I saw remarkable recognition from the field and non-tribal entities to address the high needs of the tribal population and the inequities that exist. With so many communities in this space that need the additional resources I think this recognition was truly remarkable.”
During the hearing, Senator Murkowski acknowledged the significant steps made, but also highlighted the need of more work to do in ensuring equitable resources for tribes in both the child welfare and domestic violence arenas, and called on her colleagues for continued support to address these awful and glaring issues. Murkowski also explained the situation in Alaska and why tribal FVPSA grants are vital to rural communities.
“Our rates are excessively high when it comes to domestic violence and child abuse. I hear so many stories, such as families with 5 or 6 kids and the woman finds herself in a serious domestic violence situation. These are small communities that are not accessible by road. The only way in is often an airplane flight, which means the only way out is an airplane flight. So if it has been an abusive spouse or partner or someone in the village, there is no place to go for safety in your village. It is 350 people, you’re locked in, and often access to law enforcement is non-existent or you have to wait for a state trooper to fly in. But if the weather is bad, literally the community can be in a lock-down mode when you have someone moving through a village that is dangerous,” said Senator Murkowski. “So what you have is a need to fly the families to the hub regions to seek refuge, which could mean spending $10,000 if you’re moving 5 or 6 kids and you’ve got multiple flights to get to Anchorage for safety. If your annual grant is $14,000 [per tribe], you have eaten that up just helping one family. And this is not an unusual situation. Often times we see this happening multiple times a month. FVPSA grants are the only federal grants specifically available for domestic violence shelters and transporting these families to safety has got to be an imperative.”
The HELP Committee approved the following bills:
- Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act (CAPTA) Reauthorization Act of 2019: The legislation, of which Senator Murkowski is a cosponsor, provides grants to states to support the prevention, assessment, investigation, prosecution and treatment of child abuse and neglect. This includes family-strengthening services like parent empowerment and positive parenting education.
- Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act (FVPSA) of 2019: In July 2019, Senator Murkowski and Senator Casey (D-PA) introduced the Family Violence Prevention and Services Improvement Act, legislation to enhance and expand support, protection, and prevention for Americans affected by family violence, domestic violence, and dating violence. Specifically, the bill reauthorizes the only federal grants specifically available for domestic violence shelters and authorizes a significant increase in resources to tribes. FVPSA was included within CAPTA.
- Adoption Opportunities Act: Included in CAPTA, this bill removes barriers to adoption through programs to increase the placement of minorities, older children, and children who are disabled.
- Child Care Improvement Act of 2019: The bill creates an interagency task force to assist state and Child Care and Development Block Grant-funded child care providers in the process of implementing the required interstate background check requirements for child care workers.
- Title VII Health Workforce Reauthorization: The legislation would revise and extend health workforce programs under Title VII of the Public Health Service Act, by providing funds, through grants and direct assistance to individuals, in support of health professional education and training. Additionally, the bill calls for a comprehensive and coordinated workforce development plan, including performance measures for Title VII programs, identification of gaps, and barriers to addressing those gaps.