Advocates Applaud New Elder Justice Bill

The Elder Justice Reauthorization and Modernization Act of 2021 dedicates funding to programs to address vulnerable seniors’ needs, and its advocates say the financial services industry has a critical role to play in protecting the public.

A new bill recently filed in the U.S. House of Representatives seeks to ensure that the services and programs authorized under the Elder Justice Act (EJA) can continue to protect older and vulnerable Americans into the future. To achieve this goal, the bill seeks to authorize $4 billion in spending on the issue, including $1.4 billion to support state and local adult protective services (APS) agencies.

The legislation’s working title is “The Elder Justice Reauthorization and Modernization Act of 2021,” and it has been introduced by a group of Democratic House and Senate members. They include Representative Richard Neal, D-Massachusetts; Senator Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Representative Suzanne Bonamici, D-Oregon; and Senator Robert Casey Jr., D-Pennsylvania. The lawmakers say state programs to investigate elder abuse, neglect and exploitation would get a much-needed increase in federal assistance under their proposed legislation.

While other bills recently filed in the House and Senate are more directly focused on the retirement plan services industry—including, for example, the Securing a Strong Retirement Act—advocates for the EJA update say financial professionals should take it upon themselves to advocate for the bill. Indeed, the measure is one of several priority items advocated for by the Insured Retirement Institute (IRI).

Data shared with PLANADVISER by the IRI suggests addressing elder abuse and financial exploitation is a national imperative. It costs an estimated $2.9 billion annually, the IRI says, while impacting roughly one in 10 older workers and retirees. The average loss per financial abuse or exploitation incident is estimated to be $120,000, a figure that aligns with the average amount workers have saved for retirement.

As the IRI points out, basic demographic data shows the population of older Americans is expected to double in size to nearly 84 million citizens by 2050, and thus there needs to be a concerted effort to combat financial exploitation.

Another advocate for the EJA update is Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO of LeadingAge, which is an association of nonprofit providers of aging services. She says the new bill would meaningfully support adult protective services and reauthorize effective programs addressing elder abuse, neglect and exploitation. She notes that the bill includes grants to address social isolation, as well as support for medical-legal partnerships and the long-term care workforce.

“The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated conditions that can lead to abuse, including increased isolation, reliance on caregivers, and the fear and loss of independence,” Sloan warns. “At the same time, it created challenges for programs designed to prevent elder abuse. The Elder Justice Reauthorization and Modernization Act includes critical support that older Americans and their caregivers need to avoid and prevent financial exploitation, physical and psychological abuse, and other unacceptable forms of elder abuse.”

Sloan says her members are especially grateful that the legislation recognizes the challenge presented by an aging service care workforce, mainly by calling for $400 million of investments per year through 2025 for state grants to enhance education, training, career advancement and wages for direct care workers in long-term care settings.

Other advocates of the legislation include the American Health Care Association, the National Center for Assisted Living and the Elder Justice Coalition.