(Washington, D.C.) – Today, U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Wash) introduced legislation with Senators Sherrod Brown and Chris Dodd to ensure that victims of domestic violence have the financial means to escape abusive relationships. The Security and Financial Empowerment Act (SAFE Act) would make a number of changes in federal law to ensure that victims of domestic violence have the ability to leave their abusers, support themselves and their families while they seek help, and are not discriminated against or penalized simply for being abused.
Murray’s reintroduction of the SAFE Act comes as Congress debates health insurance reform. Murray has long insisted that we reform the insurance industry to end the practice of considering domestic abuse to be a pre-existing condition. Her efforts to reform the system in the HELP Committee were voted down by Republicans in 2006, but the health care reform bill that passed the Committee in late July does include language that would end the practice.
“For too long domestic violence victims have been victimized twice – first by their abusers and then again by financial and insurance constraints that punish them for their abusers’ crimes. The SAFE Act will help domestic violence victims break the financial chains that bind them to their abusers,” Senator Murray said. “As we work to reform our health care system to eliminate discriminatory practices against victims of domestic violence, we also need to look at the larger financial system and ensure that no victim ever has to choose between personal safety and economic security.”
Senator Murray has spent years in the Senate fighting for awareness of and protection for victims of domestic violence.
Murray also introduced an amendment in 2006 that would have prohibited insurance companies from discriminating against victims of domestic violence, but this was defeated in committee when ten Republicans voted against it. This amendment was introduced at a hearing of the HELP Committee considering the Health Insurance Marketplace Modernization and Affordability Act.
Background on SAFE Act:
While the devastating physical and emotional effects of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking are well documented, little attention has been paid to the severe economic consequences of these types of abuse – estimated to cost U.S. employers between $3 billion and $13 billion annually.
Currently, victims of domestic violence are not expressly allowed by federal law to take leave from work for the purpose of dealing with domestic violence, nor do they have the right to unemployment compensation if they lose their jobs due to circumstances resulting from abuse. Victims who seek help to leave their abuser are often discriminated against by employers and insurers.
These restrictions often force victims to choose between their safety and their financial security. Abusers frequently exploit their victims’ economic dependence to keep them trapped in violent relationships.
To address these issues, Senator Murray is re-introducing the Security and Financial Empowerment (SAFE) Act. This legislation promotes financial security for victims of abuse in several ways:
- Allows a victim to take time off from work, without penalty from their employers, to make necessary court appearances, seek legal assistance, and get help with safety planning. For families attempting to escape a violent environment, attending to such necessities is often a matter of life and death.
- Ensures that victims can retain the financial independence necessary to leave their abusers without having to rely on welfare by requiring that states provide unemployment benefits to victims who are terminated from employment due to circumstances stemming from domestic violence.
- Prohibits employers or insurance providers from basing hiring or coverage decisions on a victim’s history of abuse.