Leahy, Tillis And Casey Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Provide Access To Free Legal Services For Seniors Encountering Scams, Abuse And Health Care Violations

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Senator Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Senator Robert Casey (D-Pa.) have 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.

Leahy, Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and a former prosecutor in Vermont, said:  “All too often seniors are the target of fraudulent scams, and they need timely access to trustworthy legal advice.  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 percent 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 Vermont Legal Aid Inc., the National Association of Senior Legal Hotlines, SeniorLAW Center (Pennsylvania), 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.

Read the bill here.


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