Following a surge in reports of domestic violence across the country, U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA) and Vern Buchanan (R-FL) this week joined a bipartisan contingent of 80 lawmakers in requesting that more emergency funding be included in the next COVID-19 relief funding package to support survivors of domestic violence and their companion animals.

“We must address this situation immediately and support funding for safe housing for domestic violence victims, their children, and their pets,” Rep. Fitzpatrick said on April 21. “Everyone deserves to feel safe and to be safe, and this funding is an important step toward that goal.”

The members requested that leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives include an additional $4 million in forthcoming legislation for the U.S. Department of Justice Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance grant program authorized under the 2018 Farm Bill.

“The impact of the coronavirus has caused significant hardships for Americans across the country and has tragically led to a surge in domestic violence cases,” said Rep. Buchanan. “Additional funding for domestic violence shelters and housing assistance will help keep thousands of victims safe from being trapped with their abuser. We need to act swiftly and get this support to those who desperately need it.”

While the recently passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act included an additional $45 million for the Family Violence Prevention and Services (FVPSA) program, the lawmakers wrote in their April 16 letter sent to House leaders about concerns “that more targeted funding will be required to meet the needs of victims and survivors with pets during the COVID-19 crisis.”

“Reports of domestic violence have risen dramatically across the country in recent weeks as stay-at-home orders subject many victims of family abuse to prolonged periods of isolation with their abuser,” according to their letter, which noted that research has shown that approximately 50 percent of domestic violence survivors cite the fear of leaving their pets behind with their abuser as a reason for why they remain in abusive situations.

Recognizing the importance of addressing this problem, Congress incorporated the Pets and Women Safety (PAWS) Act into the 2018 Farm Bill, creating a grant program to help domestic violence shelters accommodate survivors with pets, according to their letter.

“We remain concerned that the $2 million provided in FY20 will be insufficient to meet the growing need for these services,” wrote the lawmakers. “That is why we urge you to include no less than $4 million in additional investment for these Emergency and Transitional Pet Shelter and Housing Assistance grants as we look to the next phase in our efforts to support vulnerable populations during this crisis.”

The letter is endorsed by numerous organizations, including the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA); the Association of Prosecuting Attorneys; the Humane Society of the United States; and the Urban Resource Institute.