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May 01, 2012

White House Highlights Problem of Financial Exploitation of Elders, Announces New Elder Abuse Initiatives

Lori A. Stiegel

Marking the first time the White House has recognized World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, on June 14, 2012, the White House Office of Public Engagement, with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services through its Administration for Community Living, the U.S. Department of Justice, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau hosted an historic conference on elder abuse. Led with heartfelt passion, warmth, and humor by Kathy Greenlee, assistant secretary for aging and administrator for the Administration for Community Living, the event featured nationally recognized figures and leading experts from government, banking, and the field of elder abuse who commemorated the 7th World Elder Abuse Awareness Day and underscored the increasing problem of financial exploitation of elders.

The excitement in the room was palpable even before high-ranking administration officials began making a series of electrifying announcements.

The tone was set when Jon Carson, director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, shared the news that President Obama had proclaimed June 15, 2012, as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, "call(ing) upon all Americans to observe this day by learning the signs of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, and by raising awareness about this public health issue." Then Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), revealed that the administration would establish the Elder Justice Coordinating Council and that HHS would provide $5.5 million in funding to states and tribes to pilot test elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation interventions. [Download the funding announcement and grant application instructions and other information. Applications are due on July 31.]

These initiatives implement provisions of the Elder Justice Act, which became law as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. James Cole, deputy attorney general of the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), disclosed that three DOJ entities—the Elder Justice Initiative, Office for Victims of Crime, and Access to Justice Initiative—would coordinate on the "Missing Link Project" to develop training on elder abuse for legal aid lawyers. All legal services lawyers would receive the training thanks to the "essential cooperation" of Legal Services Corporation president Jim Sandman. Richard Cordray, director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, reported that to inform its policy-making and to "fix what is not working" the Bureau would be seeking information on elder financial exploitation, including certifications or designations of financial advisors who serve older persons. The Bureau’s Request for Information closes on August 17.

Later in the day Tony West, acting associate attorney general, highlighted many of the important activities that DOJ has undertaken to support efforts to prevent and prosecute elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, as well as its own criminal and civil actions against providers of inadequate long-term care.

During his rousing closing remarks, Hubert H. (Skip) Humphrey, assistant director, Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans, Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (and former member of the ABA Commission on Law and Aging), announced that the Bureau would be supporting the development of a set of user-friendly "how-to" guides for lay fiduciaries (agents under powers of attorney, guardians, trustees, Social Security representative payees, and VA fiduciaries) (see page 64 in this issue of Bifocal).

Not all the announcements came from federal agencies. Daniel Ludeman, executive vice president of Wells Fargo and president of Wells Fargo Advisors, announced that Wells Fargo would soon partner with the U.S. Administration on Aging to launch training initiatives intended to help create a national response to elder financial abuse. 

Three panel discussions followed the morning’s announcements. Featuring an array of government officials, financial services industry representatives, and elder abuse experts, the presenters discussed the connections between financial exploitation and other forms of elder abuse; the impact of financial exploitation on health, and health care costs; and promising practices for recognition of exploitation and intervention by the financial services industry, adult protective services, consumer protection agencies, and federal and state prosecutors.

The ABA Commission on Law and Aging was well-represented. Commission member Alison Hirschel, director Charles Sabatino, assistant director Erica Wood, and senior attorney/elder abuse project director Lori Stiegel were honored to be among those invited to attend the event.

Several vidoes of the White House WEAAD commemoration are available on youtube:

Opening Session

Session 1

Session 2

Closing Session

U.S. Senate Also Recognizes World Elder Abuse Awareness Day

Thanks to the leadership of Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Sen. Mark Kirk (R-IL) and the assistance of Sens. Durbin (D-IL), Kohl (D-WI), Nelson (D-FL), Rockefeller (D-WV), and Wyden (D-OR), the U.S. Senate adopted by Unanimous Consent a resolution (S. Res. 492) recognizing June 15, 2012 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.


Lori A. Stiegel

About the Author: Lori A. Stiegel is a Senior Attorney at the ABA Commission on Law and Aging.