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New Bill Seeks to Reauthorize, Modernize and Fund Elder Justice Act

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What You Need to Know

  • EJA programs, enacted under the ACA, have been chronically unfunded or underfunded.
  • The bill dedicates funding to vital programs and closes current policy gaps.
  • The bill appropriates $4 billion for EJA programs and three newly created ones.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., have reintroduced legislation to reauthorize and fund the Elder Justice Act (EJA).

The bill, the Elder Justice Reauthorization and Modernization Act of 2021, is also sponsored by Bob Casey, D-Pa., chairman of the Senate Special Committee on Aging, and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., co-chair of the House Elder Justice Caucus.

The bill was introduced on Monday and dedicates funding to vital programs and closes current policy gaps to better protect vulnerable older Americans and people with disabilities.

It also creates three new programs that address long-term care workforce needs, social isolation and improved links to legal services, the lawmakers said.

The bill directly appropriates $4 billion for new and existing EJA programs and activities through fiscal 2025, including:

  • $1.6 billion for a new post-acute and long-term care worker recruitment and retention program;
  • $1.4 billion for APS functions and grant programs;
  • $172.5 million for long-term care ombudsman program grants and training;
  • $500 million for supporting linkages to legal services and medical-legal partnerships (MLPs); and
  • $250 million to address social isolation and loneliness.

“COVID-19 has laid bare the risks of abuse, neglect and exploitation faced by vulnerable seniors and folks with disabilities,” Wyden said in a statement. “Congress ought to fulfill the unmet promises of the Elder Justice Act, a law that was unfortunately left to languish without proper funding or implementation.”

Enacted as part of the Affordable Care Act, the Elder Justice Act programs were originally created to address the need for prevention, detection and treatment of abuse of older Americans and people with disabilities, working in tandem with flexible funding from the Social Services Block Grant that many states use partially for Adult Protective Services, a summary of the bill explains.

“Since then, EJA programs have been chronically un-funded or underfunded,” the lawmakers said.

In December 2020, Congress for the first time provided significant funding for the EJA (appropriating $100 million) and then invested in these programs again in the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (appropriating $276 million), the lawmakers state.

“It’s past time Congress act to make sure older Americans and Americans with disabilities are afforded the dignity they deserve,” Wyden said.

Neal added that “the mistreatment and neglect that seniors and people with disabilities experience is unacceptable, and the pandemic has only further exacerbated the need to better protect these vulnerable populations. By putting an end to chronic underfunding and strengthening elder policy, this bill will enhance existing programs and make it easier to seek justice.”

In commenting on the bill, Paul Richman, chief government and political affairs officer for the Insured Retirement Institute, said that “financial abuse can erase a lifetime of savings and leave older workers and retirees in financial ruin. With the population of older Americans expected to double in size to nearly 84 million citizens by 2050, there needs to be a concerted effort to combat financial exploitation.”

He noted that a recent IRI survey found that about 60% of financial professionals saw a confirmed case of financial abuse of elderly investors at least once over three years.