WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Thom Tillis (R-NC), Bob Casey (D-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) introduced bipartisan legislation that would provide free, accessible legal assistance for seniors who need help reporting abuse and neglect, threats to income security, difficulty accessing and affording health care and other violations. The bipartisan Senior Legal Hotline Act authorizes the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration for Community Living to create a competitive grant program to support organizations that operate senior legal hotlines.
“With 10,000 people turning 65 every day, the need to provide accessible legal assistance to our growing senior population is one we must tackle immediately,” said Senator Thom Tillis. “Senior legal hotlines play a vital role in providing those services to our seniors, and this bipartisan legislation will support these organizations so we can expand affordable legal assistance to those in need.”
“In order to help seniors deal with legal challenges, like estate planning or financial fraud and abuse, we must ensure they have easy access to services and help navigating a complex landscape,” said Sen. Bob Casey, Ranking Member of the Special Committee on Aging. “The Senior Legal Hotline Act would authorize dedicated funding for legal hotlines to help ensure organizations can continue to provide much-needed legal advice to seniors who may otherwise go without any help from skilled attorneys.”
“All too often seniors are the target of fraudulent scams, and they need timely access to trustworthy legal advice,” said Senator Patrick Leahy.“This bill will help expand free, reliable legal services to those who may have nowhere else to turn. I’m glad to join with Senator Tillis and Senator Casey in introducing this important legislation.”
According to the Legal Services Corporation, low-income seniors received inadequate or no professional legal help for 87% of their civil legal problems in 2017. Further, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Law and Aging reports that legal assistance available to low-income older adults meets less than one-quarter of the existing need.
Senior legal hotlines help meet the needs of seniors by offering free advice, legal drafting and referrals to services on a range of issues including, landlord/tenant issues, advanced directives and financial exploitation. These hotlines are a lifeline to many seniors, yet due to lack of resources, many hotlines are no longer operational or operate on reduced hours. By providing senior legal hotlines with dedicated resources, the growing demand for assistance will be better met.
Specifically, the bill:
- Requires grantees to provide appropriately trained attorneys, paralegals and other staff members to ensure effective delivery of a senior legal hotline.
- Requires grantees to establish a robust network of support and referral services so that older adults can be in contact with local resources in the aging network, other legal aid agencies and private attorneys providing pro bono legal services.
- Allows grantees to use funds to provide legal assistance for seniors using a variety of technological modes, such as a video conference system, a web-based platform or e-mail.
The bill is supported by the National Association of Senior Legal Hotlines, SeniorLAW Center (Pennsylvania), Vermont Legal Aid, Inc., Connecticut Legal Services, Inc., Elder Law of Michigan, Legal Services of North Dakota, Pro Seniors, Inc. (Ohio), Texas Legal Service Center, and West Virginia Senior Legal Aid, Inc.
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