U.S. Reps. Brian Fitzpatrick and Matt Cartwright introduced the Senior Legal Hotline Act. This bill would authorize the Department of Health and Human Services to create a competitive grant program for statewide legal hotlines serving seniors. The grant program would be authorized at $10 million per year for five years.
“Our seniors need our help, now more than ever. All of them are vulnerable to COVID-19, and forced to self-isolate, away from friends and family,” Fitzpatrick said. “By expanding the network of senior assistance hotlines, and providing federal funding, we can protect them from scams and misinformation. Thank you to my friend, Congressman Cartwright, for his leadership, and I look forward to working to ensure that our seniors are safe and healthy.”
The congressmen held a video news conference to discuss their legislation, and they were joined by the Secretary of the state Department of Aging Robert Torres and Pennsylvania SeniorLAW Center Executive Director Karen Buck, both of whom support the legislation.
The COVID-19 outbreak has increased the need for accessible legal services for seniors. As millions of older Americans on fixed incomes follow social distancing guidance and remain home, they require free and remote legal assistance to deal with issues including medical, shopping, investment scams and app fraud; devastating financial exploitation; emergency protection from abuse; emergency custody for grandparents raising grandchildren; and urgent housing and health care questions and needs.
Due to funding issues, legal hotlines in many states have closed, and others operate on reduced hours. SeniorLAW Center, the senior legal hotline that operates in Pennsylvania, is generally open only Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. These hotlines provide seniors with free legal advice and referrals. The bill ensures older adults are provided access to a robust network of support and referral services, including from aging organizations, other legal aid agencies and private attorneys providing pro bono legal services.
It also encourages the use of technology, like video conference systems, web-based platforms or email to deliver legal assistance to older adults, helping expand reach during crises like COVID-19.
This bill is cosponsored by Reps. Vern Buchanan, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Jan Schakowsky and Darren Soto.
A Senate companion to this bill was previously been introduced by Sens. Thom Tillis, Bob Casey and Patrick Leahy.