On June 15, in honor of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, U.S. Rep. Matt Cartwright (PA-08) reintroduced the Senior Legal Hotline Act. This bipartisan, bicameral legislation will boost federal funding for senior legal hotlines that help protect older Americans from scams and offer services for an assortment of other legal issues.
An identical version of this legislation was also introduced in the Senate by Senators Bob Casey (D-PA), Thom Tillis (R-NC) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT).
“Our seniors are highly vulnerable. Many can’t afford legal assistance or don’t know where to look for help, especially folks with low incomes,” Cartwright said. “Unfortunately, this means they are also disproportionately targeted by scammers. This bipartisan legislation will protect older Americans in Northeastern Pennsylvania and nationwide from getting scammed out of their hard-earned savings while expanding their access to vital legal services.”
Senior legal hotlines provide older adults access to free legal information, advice and referrals on a host of topics, including health care questions, finances, housing issues and landlord disputes, income maintenance and disability. However, due to lack of resources, many hotlines are no longer operational or have scaled back their hours.
What it covers
The Senior Legal Hotline Act would authorize the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Community Living to create a competitive grant program to support organizations that operate senior legal hotlines. The proposed grant program would be authorized at $10 million per year for five years.
“In order to help older Americans who are the targets of scams or are navigating legal challenges, we must ensure they have easy access to legal assistance that meets their needs,” said Sen. Bob Casey, Chairman of the Special Committee on Aging. “This bipartisan bill will support hotlines that provide legal services to older adults who may have nowhere else to turn.”
The bill will provide resources to:
· Ensure older adults are provided access to statewide hotlines staffed with appropriately trained attorneys, paralegals and other staff members
· Ensure older adults are provided access to a robust network of support and referral services, including aging organizations, legal aid agencies and private attorneys providing pro bono legal services
· Allow hotlines to employ a variety of technologies, such as video conference systems, web-based platforms or e-mail to deliver legal assistance to older adults
High costs of scams
Senior scams, which can include harassing robocalls, phony sweepstakes notices and phone calls impersonating the government, cost older Americans more than $36 billion a year, reports the National Council on Aging. According to a 2022 Legal Services Corporation report, 70% of senior households had at least one civil legal problem in the past year with low-income, older Americans receiving inadequate or no professional legal help.
“Seniors are one of the most vulnerable populations in our society, and too many are victims of scams and misinformation schemes,” added Rep. Fitzpatrick, (R-PA), a co-sponsor of the bill. “I’m proud to continue my partnership with Congressman Cartwright on the bipartisan Senior Legal Hotline Act to ensure that our nation’s seniors are further protected from exploitation.”
Additional cosponsors in the House include Representatives Don Bacon (R-NE), Vern Buchanan (R-FL), Andre Carson (D-IN), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Josh Harder (D-CA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Stephen Lynch (D-MA), Eleanor Norton (D-D.C.), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Dina Titus (D-NV), Jill Tokuda (D-HI) and Susan Wild (D-PA).
The legislation has also received the support of the American Bar Association, Connecticut Legal Services, Inc., Elder Justice Coalition, National Adult Protective Services Association (NAPSA), National Association of Senior Legal Hotlines, National Association of State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs, SeniorLAW Center, and Vermont Legal Aid, Inc.
The PDF of bill text can be viewed at https://rb.gy/jqe6c.
Pennsylvania’s eighth Congressional District includes Pike, Wayne, and Lackawanna Counties and portions of Luzerne and Monroe Counties.