California domestic violence bills would provide financial and housing relief

Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine, introduced a bill on Thursday to help victims of domestic violence recover from the financial abuse that so often prevents them from building credit or sheltering in the aftermath fled their attackers.

The measure, Senate Bill 975, is one of four new bills that hope advocates say will provide greater stability and financial security for people trying to make a fresh start. It would establish a way for victims of domestic violence, the elderly and young people in foster care to erase their credit reports of debts they were forced to incur or which were incurred without their knowledge.

Krista Colon, director of public policy for the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, said survivors often find themselves with bad credit, unable to find housing or make ends meet for themselves and the children they care about. might have.

“Economic abuse, in one form or another, occurs in about 99 percent of domestic violence cases,” Colon said. “For survivors of domestic violence, financial and economic concerns are one of the main reasons survivors remain in or return to abusive relationships.”

Los Angeles-based victim services agency FreeFrom estimates that a victim of domestic violence will rack up an average of $15,936 in debt a year without their knowledge or consent. Often, after escaping, survivors face collections for debts they didn’t know were in their name or for loans they took out under threat of violence.

The Min bill would allow victims to use evidence such as police reports, Federal Trade Commission identity theft reports and relevant court orders to establish that they are not responsible for debts incurred in their name. It would also establish that survivors can work with creditors outside of court, if preferred by both parties, to ensure that debts are ultimately collected from the appropriate person.

In a 48-page report that aims to provide a plan to address the impact of domestic violence, the Little Hoover Commission last year recommended that heads of state create a one-stop shop to help survivors resolve issues related to finances and identity theft.

In the Little Hoover Report, Amy Durrence, director of law and policy at FreeFrom, recalls trying to help a survivor she called only by her first name, Maxine, escape an abusive relationship.

Maxine had three children. Her boyfriend kept her from working and kept tight control over all family resources, Durrence said.

“It left Maxine with almost no money and no way to earn an income,” she said. “Although we managed to get a temporary restraining order for Maxine and her children, they had nowhere to go, no money to pay for necessities and no job prospects.”

It’s virtually impossible for survivors in such situations to make things work, Durrence told the commission, and that’s why they return to abusive partners.

Other legislation introduced during this session seeks to ensure that local and state government agencies count survivors as homeless and ensure that, if they have homes, they have the protections necessary to keep them.

Senator Susan Rubio, D-Baldwin Park, introduced Senate Bill 914 a week ago to ensure domestic violence survivors and unaccompanied women are included when local agencies do their planning and goals to help homeless people.

In this case, regulations intended to protect survivors prevent them from being counted and properly served, Colon said. A federal law prohibits victim service providers from entering identifying information about survivors into federal and state databases that are used to measure the number of homeless people.

In the United States, about 57% of women living without housing cited domestic violence as the immediate cause of their homelessness, according to studies.

Rubio’s bill would require any government agency that receives state funding to address homelessness to also serve unaccompanied women and survivors of domestic violence. It would also require the California Interagency Council on Homelessness to set inclusion goals and measure progress.

The measure is co-sponsored by the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence, the Downtown Women’s Center of Los Angeles and San Pedro-based Rainbow Services.

MLA Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters attempts to strengthen and remove barriers to the state’s Safe at Home program with the introduction of Assembly Bill 1726.

The Safe at Home program ensures that victims of domestic violence and others at risk to their lives do not have to share the street address where they live. Instead, the California Secretary of State provides them with an address where they can receive mail.

Their mail is collected and then redirected to them, and they can use the address when applying for a driver’s license or other state, county, or city services. The goal is to keep residential addresses away from people who might want to harm participants.

In 2020, 4,858 people used the Safe at Home program. AB 1726 would make a number of changes to the existing law, including:

  • Remove administrative formalities that prevent access to the program. Existing state law requires participants to list an additional legal parent for their children, but in some cases there is no other legal parent.
  • Clarify that participation in the program does not indicate that children are at risk. In the past, participation has been used against participants in custody or dependency proceedings.
  • Prohibit any person or entity from disclosing an entrant’s home address or contact information.
  • Give participants more time to respond to court documents since they must be mailed to the office of the Secretary of State before they can be forwarded to participants.

In another effort to address homelessness, Colon said the California Partnership to End Domestic Violence will co-sponsor a bill to improve eviction protections for survivors.

“California already has eviction protections for survivors, but they’re pretty limited,” she said. “They don’t apply if the abusive partner is also a tenant on the lease, so if… you’re both on the lease, those protections don’t apply. They do not apply if the survivor “allows” the violent person to return to the property, which we know often happens in relationships, especially if there are children involved in exchanges of custody or visitation that must take place.

The goal is to make changes to trauma-informed laws that will reduce the risk of homelessness for survivors trying to keep a roof over their heads as they rebuild their lives, Colon said.

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Cathie Anderson covers health care for The Bee. Growing up, her blue-collar parents paid for care out of their own pockets. She joined The Bee in 2002, with roles including business columnist and editor. She previously worked at newspapers such as Dallas Morning News, Detroit News and Austin American-Statesman.

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