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Stimulus Checks Difficult To Access For Those Facing Domestic Abuse

A third round of stimulus checks is on its way to aid those impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, but that money could be difficult for individuals fleeing domestic abuse to access.

Domestic violence and abuse can take a variety of forms, said Sarah Froimson, Senior Director for Crisis Housing and Shelter Services at the Journey Center for Safety and Healing. In the case of financial abuse, the perpetrator limits access to shared bank accounts or keeps the victim’s Social Security information and then lists them as a dependent on taxes regardless of employment status.

“That is an opportunity for the abusers to further exacerbate and control their victims by accessing the funds before victims even have a chance to get ahold of it,” Froimson said.

In situations like that Froimson said victims have a much smaller chance of ever receiving funding like a stimulus check.

Direct deposit and mailed checks can create additional barriers for people trying to escape abusive relationships, Froimson said. Government agencies don’t usually accept post office boxes or alternative delivery methods, she said, which victims use to protect themselves from their abusers.

“On their end, they think they’re being extra safe,” Froimson said. “What we know is that the victims went through that process of setting up that extra account, setting up that P.O. box, and now it is serving as a further barrier.”

If the latest stimulus checks are sent to shared accounts or an old address, Froimson said, abusers can use the checks to lure their victims into meeting with them. The Journey Center has seen incidents where that has led to violence, she said.

Survivors can file to supersede tax filings that list them as a dependent or spouse, Froimson said, and that can help in getting access to stimulus money. But that process can take between four to six weeks.

“A lot of our survivors who are faced with this are saying, ‘It’s just not worth it for me to go through that process, or not worth it for me to meet up with my perpetrator or even have a difficult time getting somebody on the phone,’” Froimson said.

Demand for the shelter’s services have dropped during the pandemic, Froimson said – not because of a drop in abuse, but because of the risk of catching the coronavirus.

“Coming into shelter during a pandemic is scary,” Froimson said. “Coming into a shelter in the first place is scary, add a pandemic to it and a lot of people are concerned about risks, especially if they’re bringing children in.”

Froimson said shelter staff are concerned some victims are waiting for the stimulus checks to come through as a way to get out. If they can’t access those funds, she said, they’re left in a difficult position.

“We’re concerned that a lot of people are waiting for their stimulus checks to leverage that for rental payment, for security deposit, and not being able to access that, leaving them in a place even more vulnerable,” Froimson said. “A lot of them have access to no means, no resources. So that $1,200, that $600, that $1,400, can mean the difference between staying in shelter for a longer period of time and getting a security deposit.”

Some Cleveland churches and nonprofits are offering their addresses as a safe place to receive stimulus checks, she said, but help is needed, including public service campaigns, to alert survivors of their options.

“We need to be making sure that we’re educating survivors on financial abuse, educating the public on financial abuse and recognizing the severity of financial abuse and how it can really lead to some of these circumstances that lead to homicide in the end,” Froimson said.

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