by Fabiola Alfonso, YWCA Evanston/North Shore Financial Education Specialist
The COVID 19 pandemic has reduced domestic violence survivors’ options of getting out of their abusive relationship. Contact with family members, access to social services, filing of orders of protection, going to shelters, computer access, and more are not easily available. When the Economic Impact Payments (Stimulus Checks) were announced, it appeared that victims of domestic violence would have a way out. But though the Economic Impact Payments and other forms of financial relief have helped many families during the COVID-19 health crisis, for victims of domestic violence this is often not the case. The Economic Impact Payment will not make any difference for the survivors of domestic violence who are trapped at home with the abuser. In times of pandemic, physical, emotional, verbal, sexual and other control tactics have increased significantly, as has as financial abuse. According to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV), 99% of domestic violence survivors also suffer financial abuse. An abuser controls access to all kinds of money sources, including the stimulus check. Other forms of financial abuse include:
- Keeping tax refunds & unemployment benefits
- Selling victim’s assets
- Using the victim’s credit cards
- Draining victim’s savings
Abusers use all money resources and withhold them to control and trap survivors in a relationship. This happened before the pandemic, is happening now, and will continue after the pandemic has passed.
It may seem easy for survivors to access their stimulus check and other financial resources if they have left the abusive relationship , but obstacles are still present. Survivors look everywhere for answers, connections, and resources in times of uncertainty and quickly changing financial times. At YWCA Evanston/North Shore, we provide financial coaching to survivors in our domestic violence program. Here are examples of survivors’ questions during the last two months:
- How I can receive the Economic Impact Payment? I don’t file taxes. The last time I did, all my tax return was garnished because of unpaid student loans. My abuser didn’t let me finish school and I couldn’t pay my loans back while I was with him.
- I’m a survivor of domestic violence, I haven’t been able to open a bank account. Is there a bank where I can open an account?
- Can I receive the stimulus check with an ITIN (Individual Tax Identification Number) number?
- My abuser filed the 2018 taxes. I filed an order of protection recently. Now, that I’m not with him. How can I file my taxes and receive the stimulus check? I don’t want him to file my taxes again and get my money.
- I filed my 2019 taxes but I received an IRS letter. It says I need to make a correction. How can I do this and receive my stimulus check? I hope my abuser does not file the taxes before me.
- My W-2 was sent to my abuser’s home address. I don’t want to contact him anymore. I don’t have computer access and it’s going to take time to get my W-2. How can I file taxes?
Financial abuse can leave a survivor with far-reaching, devastating costs. It takes years to rebuild financially. Even though the options for domestic violence survivors are reduced during the pandemic, YWCA is here with support whether they decide to stay or leave, . Our Economic Advancement programs are reaching survivors by phone, email, or video conference in the community when it is safe. We offer support and connect them to our domestic violence services, give them information and alternative forms of financial income, but mainly we give them hope and tools to build a more secure financial future during this difficult time. And all the time.