Government Shutdown Hurts Seniors, Too

Published in Pawtucket Times on January 21, 2019

At press time, the federal government has been partially shut down for over 29 days because of Democrats and Republicans being at odds over President Trump’s ask for $5.7 billion to be included in continuing spending resolutions for the Oct. 1 start of the new federal fiscal year. Trump calls for billions of dollars to build a border wall along the 234 miles of the nation’s southern border.

The partial shutdown began on Dec. 22 because Congress had not passed legislation, signed by the President, to fund nine federal departments, so these departments do not have funding to operate. The department’s include Agriculture (USDA), Commerce, Justice, Homeland Security, Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Interior, State, Transportation and Treasury.

During the partial government shutdown, Trump has so refused to retreat from his request for funding to build a wall. With strong Democratic opposition the political standoff has made this partial shutdown the longest one of its kind in the nation’s history. There have been 21 shutdowns since 1976.

Local media has widely reported that this shutdown has left 800,000 federal workers furloughed without pay, as well as those working in several federal agencies. But half of these employees are still working, being recalled but without being pay. But Trump has signed legislation this week to pay these employees retroactively once a funding bill is enacted.

What About Aging Programs and Services?

According to AARP’s Senior Writer Dena Bunis in a Jan. 18th web article, “Essential Services Stay in Place Despite Massive Federal Employee Furloughs,” the government shutdown does not impact major domestic programs, like Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security but other programs and services for seniors are affected.
Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security will continue operating and not be disrupted by the shutdown because these programs are funded by an advance appropriations and Social Security [ an earned benefit] is separately funded, says Bunis.

Bunis adds, even with the shutdown aging veterans will still have access to VA hospitals, medical centers and clinics because the Department of Veterans Affairs is funded.

Retirees will find many of the nation’s 400 national parks open but having limited services. Park rangers are furloughed and volunteers are stepping up to help where needed, says Bunis, noting that with employees not reporting for work, bathrooms and other facilities remain unattended with trash piling up and vandalism reports are increasing.

Although flights are not affected and air traffic controllers remain working, Transportation Security Administration’s airport security screeners are calling in sick in large numbers, increasing waiting times, notes Bunis. She says that Federal Aviation Administration has brought back thousands of safety inspectors and engineers to keep the planes in the air flying safely.

Seniors receiving SNAP (formerly called food stamps) from the USDA can expect getting their February benefits, says Bunis, but Meals on Wheels and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program food-box deliveries will be available through March.

Bunis notes that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has brought back nearly 150 furloughed employees without pay “to resume safety inspections on certain drugs, medical devices and high-risk foods, such as cheese, fruits and vegetables, and infant formula.”

The current government shutdown has closed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Those workers age 40 and over who file age discrimination claims may experience difficulties in applying and getting these claims processed, says Bunis.

USDA loans for low- and moderate-income Americans who live in rural areas have stopped because of the shutdown, says Bunis. “The Federal Housing Administration is not issuing the needed paperwork for reverse mortgages to get approved. More than 1,000 contracts between HUD and landlords who provide rental assistance to low-income tenants have expired, and hundreds more will expire in February,” she notes.

Meanwhile, USDA has recalled 2,500 Farm Service Agency employees to temporarily assist agricultural producers with existing farm loan payments to ensure they get the tax documents necessary to file their returns, says Bunis.

It’s tax season…Bunis says that although the Internal Revenue Service is affected by the shutdown because it is part of the Treasury Department, over 46,000 furloughed employees have been called back to work to process income-tax returns and refunds. Filing season officially begins on Jan. 28.

Casey Calls on Trump to Reopen Government

Last week, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), Ranking Member of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, urged Trump to end the partial shutdown charging that the federal government’s closing jeopardizes the transportation, housing, and nutrition needs of older Americans and people with disabilities.

“I am particularly concerned about the adverse impact of the shutdown on seniors, people with disabilities and their families,” stated in Jan 15 correspondence to the President. Food assistance programs administered through the UDSA, rental assistance payments from HUD, transportation services through the Department of Transportation (DOT), and frauds and scams investigations and enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) are all negatively impacted during the shutdown, said Casey.

“Elected and appointed officials in Washington have a sacred responsibility of ensuring seniors can age with dignity and people with disabilities can live independently. I request you direct the USDA, HUD, DOT, FTC and FCC to provide additional information to Congress on the steps they will take to mitigate the harmful impact this shutdown will have on seniors and people with disabilities. And, I urge you to reopen the government so that the health and financial security of our aging loved ones are no longer put in jeopardy,” Casey adds.

For a copy of Casey’s correspondence, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/press-releases/casey-to-trump-the-shutdown-hurts-seniors_.

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CDC: Rhode Island Hit with Widespread Flu

Published in the Woonsocket Call on January 6, 2018

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says it’s a no brainer as to what issue I should cover this week. Being homebound for three or four days, with the flu, and my submittal deadline looming, I pen my commentary on widespread flu activity now being reported in Rhode Island.

CDC’s Influenza surveillance (ending Week 52) reported widespread influenza “flu” activity in 24 states including Rhode Island. This CDC warning recently triggered a requirement by the Rhode Island Department of Health (RIDOH} to require unvaccinated healthcare workers in a variety of health care settings to wear masks when entering a person’s room, serving food, or participating with patients in group activities.

The masking requirement helps protect healthcare workers from catching the flu, and helps protects patients who are often dealing with other serious health issues,” said Director of Health Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH., in a statement released on January 2. “For people who have not been vaccinated yet, it is not too late. Flu vaccine is the single best way to keep yourself and the people you love safe from the flu. Getting vaccinated today will provide you with months of protection,” she says.

According to the RIDOH, typical flu symptoms include having a fever, coughing, a sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

There are many types of illnesses or injuries even less severe cases of the flu do not require a visit to the emergency room, says RIDOH, noting that less severe cases of the flu will be treated more promptly by a primary care provider or in urgent care facilities. The department notes that going to an emergency room can oftentimes result in long waits because emergency room providers prioritize more serious injuries and medical conditions.

But, when do you seek out treatment for a nasty case of the flu? RIDOH says that difficulty in breathing or shortness in health, pain or pressure in the chest and having flu-like symptoms that improve and return with a fever and worse cough are clear warning signs to go immediately to an emergency room.

CDC expects that increased flu activity in the coming weeks, noting that the average duration of a flu season for the last five seasons has been 16 weeks, with a range of 11 weeks to 20 weeks. With significant flu still to come this season, CDC continues to recommend that anyone who has not yet gotten a flu vaccine this season should get vaccinated now. It takes approximately two weeks for the protection provided by vaccination to begin.

Although 480,000 Rhode Islanders were vaccinated last year, RIDOH, says that the flu sent 1,390 Rhode Islanders to the hospital and resulted in 60 deaths (compared to 1,216 hospitalizations and 33 deaths the previous year. The state saw more flu activity during the 2017-2018 flu season than during any flu season since the 2019-2010 season, when the state experienced the state experienced the H1N1 flu pandemic.

It’s Not too Late to Get Vaccination

In kicking off Rhode Island’s annual flu vaccination campaign last October, RIDOH Director Nicole Alexander-Scott, MD, MPH, said, “A flu shot is the single best way to protect yourself and the ones you love against the flu. When you get a flu shot you are not only protecting yourself, you are also protecting the people in your life by limiting the spread of the flu.”

So, if you have not been vaccinated, consider doing so. RIDOH recommends that children older than 6 months of age should be vaccinated against the flu. Others should, too., including health care workers, pregnant women, people over age 50, nursing facility residents and persons with chronic conditions (specifically heart, lung, or kidney disease, diabetes, asthma, anemia, blood disorders, or weakened immune systems).

It’s easily to quickly get a flu shot because of its availability at doctors’ offices and pharmacies throughout Rhode Island.

In addition to getting a flu shot, here are a few simple tips that can help prevent you from getting the flu.

Wash your hands thoroughly throughout the day, using warm water and soap. If you do not have soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand gel.

According to the CDC, the flu can spread to others up to about 6 feet away, by droplets made when a person cough, sneezes or talks. So, reduce spreading the flu, just by coughing or sneezing into your elbow or into a tissue.

Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or month because germs spread this way.

Get a good night’s sleep, be physically active and look for ways to manage your stress. Also, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

Keep surfaces wiped down, especially bedside tables, surfaces in the bathroom, and toys for children, by wiping them down with a household disinfectant.

Rhode Island Authors Reflect Their Publish Tomes and New Year’s Resolutions

Published in the Woonsocket Callon December 30, 2018

According to a YouGov, an internet company that conducts polls on politics, public affairs, products and brands, the most common New Year’s Resolution in 2018 was to eat healthier, get more exercise and to even save money. With New Year’s just days away, seven members of the Association of Rhode Island Authors (ARIA), give us their literary aspirations and self-improvement resolutions for 2019, many of them mirroring YouGov’s poll findings last year while sharing details about their published tomes.

Julien Ayotte, 77, of Cumberland, wrote “Code Name Lilly, a book about a young Belgian nurse becomes a key leader in the Comet Line escape network during World War II. Through clever and persuasive ways, she aids over 250 downed airmen escape the Germans.

Publisher: Kindle Digital Publishing. Price: $16 (soft cover. For details go to http://www.julienayotte.com

New Year’s Resolution: Improving my eating habits to maintain a healthier weight in the coming year and to keep moving. My philosophy has always been, “it’s harder to hit a moving target.” Walk at least a mile a day, and lift weights. Continued good health will allow me to write my 6th novel in 2019. And all I need to do to make Code Name Lily a blockbuster bestseller and major film by building my reader audience. My goal is still to write 10 books in 10 years, and I am halfway there.

Phyllis Calvey, 68, of Bellingham, Massachusetts, wrote “The Butterfly Club: Is That You?” One component of the book is the butterfly phenomenon; the intriguing fact that God has used the perfect timing of the appearance of this spiritual sign to comfort innumerable people after a loved one has died. But the signs are not only butterflies, or signs connected to a death experience. Each of the true-life stories in the book focuses on an incredible sign God used to communicate with someone. The Butterfly Club is for all who have experienced or would like to be inspired by a sign that is undoubtedly more than just a coincidence!

Publisher: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform. Price: $10 (soft cover). For details, go to http://www.butterflyclubbook.com.

New Year Resolution: I believe it is the combination of nearing age 70 and having friends around me tragically dying of cancer that echoed these words of wisdom in my heart, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given”. It brought to mind when our two children were young. We made a difficult decision to put the television away which allowed us the time to joyfully discover the wondrous gifts that had truly been given to each of us! This year I am resurrecting the spirit of using the time given to focus on writing what I believe has been imparted to me. And hopefully that same discovered joy from years’ past will be found and kept all year!

Hank Ellis, 70, of Saunderstown, wrote “The Promise: A Perilous Journey.” One afternoon in late June, two adventurous, adolescent brothers stumble upon a huge mysterious cavern protected from the elements for centuries. Using dreams and deciphering riddles, they travel through underground passageways to meet a man named Eli. Through a series of strange and supernatural encounters, the two boys rely on resourcefulness, perseverance, and love to lead them to an opportunity they could never have imagined and make a decision that will change their lives forever.

Publisher: Archway Publishing. Price: $21.99 (soft cover); $39.99 (hard cover); $2.99 (e-book). For details, go to http://www.archwaypublishing.com

New Year’s Resolution: My biggest resolution is to finish writing my second book (sequel to The Promise). But with advancing age, and more important than any book, I want to pay more attention to the needs of those around me. At the same time, I want to simplify my life, eliminate clutter, and give things away. I am blessed.

Dr. Karen Petit, 67, of Cranston, wrote: “Banking on Dreams,” “Mayflower Dreams,” “Roger Williams in an Elevator,” “Unhidden Pilgrims,” and “Holidays Amaze.” Her five books have Christian content, historic elements, suspenseful action, dream/reality sections, romance, pictures, and methods of dealing with such problems as losing weight, fighting, quitting smoking, nightmares, writer’s block, anxiety, and separation.

Publisher: WestBow Press. Price: $11.95 to $24.95 (soft cover) depending on the book; $28.95 to $39.95 (hard cover) depending on the book; $3.95 (e-books for each book). For a specific listing of book prices and details on books, go to http://www.drkarenpetit.com/.

New Year’s Resolution: To lose weight by substitution and exercise. Because I love to munch on chocolate, I’ll substitute most of my chocolate items with low-calorie hard candy. I’ll also be substituting vegetables for half of my carbohydrates. After still enjoying a little bit of the sweetness of my favorite foods, I’ll be exercising while watching TV. Being healthier will mean a sweeter, longer life. In my book “Holidays Amaze,” the last two lines of my maze poem titled “A Maze of Choices for New Year’s Day” are: “A resolution opens new doorways / for new years of fun with amazing days.”

Steven Porter, 53, of Harmony and owner of Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based Stillwater Books, wrote: “Confessions of the Meek and the Valiant,” a South Boston crime saga;” Mantises,” an adventure novel set against the mysterious history and legends of Block Island;” Scared to Death… Do it Anyway,” the story of Brian Beneduce and his lifelong work to overcome panic and anxiety attacks.

Publisher: Stillwater River Publications. Prices: $18 each (soft cover); $ 5.99 each (e-books). For more details go to http://www.stevenporter.com.

New year’s Resolution: My wife Dawn and I have been crazy-busy these past 12 months setting up our new bookstore. We’ve basically been working around the clock. Our New Year’s resolution is to simply find more time this year to relax and spend quality time at home. As 2019 approaches, Porter has three new books and a half written, and a fourth of shorter works and essays ready to go. “My resolution is to have at least two books finished and ready for the 2019 holiday season,” he says.

Richard T. Rook, of Wrentham, Massachusetts, wrote “Tiernan’s Wake.” The book is a historical mystery about a search for the “missing portrait” of the Irish Pirate Queen Grace O’Malley, but more importantly, it’s about how relationships and priorities change as we age.

Publisher: Lulu.com. Price: $15.97 (soft cover). For details go to http://www.amazon.com and search Tiernan’s Wake, or google Tiernan’s Wake.

New Year’s Resolution: Never to forget that the most important things in life are health, family and friends. If we have those, we don’t really need much else. To finish at least one sequel, listen more and talk less, and to keep my brain and body moving as much as possible.

Raymond A. Wolf, 76, of Hope, wrote a three-volume set, “Rhode Island Outhouses Today,” detailing exterior and interior color photographs of 469 outhouses discovered throughout the Ocean State, including details as when it was built and number of holes. A second five-volume set (cars from 1905 to 1949, the 1950’s, the 1960’s the 1970’s and trucks from 1921 to 1979) identifies over 1,100 cars and trucks photographed (in color) at Rhode Island cruise nights, car shows and private collections. Photo captions explain when the vehicle was purchase in or out of state, did the owner restore it or was it completely restored already, and identifies the owner, too.

Publisher: Wolf Publishing. Prices: $21.99 for each book (soft cover). For more details go to http://www.raywolfbooks.com.

New Year’s Resolution: Like previous years, his 2019 resolution is “never give up my dreams.”

The Association of Rhode Island Authors ARIA is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization of local, published writers of both fiction and non-fiction committed to raising awareness of the outstanding written works crafted by writers in Rhode Island and other nearby communities. For details about ARIA’s 340 authors or to join the organization, go to http://www.riauthors.org.

Simple Tips on Surviving the Holidays

Published in the Woonsocket Callon December 23, 2018

The holiday season can be a double-edge sword. For some, it brings feelings of warmth and joy, even closeness and belonging to family and friends, but for others it produces, extra stress and anxiety and feelings of isolation and depression. Increased demands and family obligations during Christmas through New Year’s Eve, from last minute shopping for gifts, baking and cooking, cleaning and hosting parties, getting the Christmas cards mailed, and even having unrealistic expectations can bring about the holiday blues. Although holiday stress triggers depression, it can also bring about headaches, excessive drinking and overeating and even difficulty in sleeping.

During her 24-year career as a licensed behavioral health therapist, Holly Fitting, LMHC, LCDP, Vice President of Addiction and Residential Services at the Providence-based The Providence Center (TPC), has assisted many of her clients develop strategies to cope with the holiday blues. “It’s quite common,” says Fitting, who oversees over 20 programs at TPC.

Traveling to visit families, flight delays, long lines to check in, bad weather can add to your stress, too, says Fitting, even anticipating topics conversations that may lead to arguments and events that may not even happen.

Pre-planning Potential Family Conflict

Fitting says that preplanning potential issues that you might encounter at a family gathering can helpful up to a point if you just don’t over plan. “If you try to figure out every possible scenario that might occur, this may only heighten your anxiety,” she adds. So, if you think your sibling will bring up political topics you may not want to discuss, you can plan to say, “Let’s talk about this topic after the holidays,” suggest Fitting. Or just don’t sit near them at the dinner table to avoid the conversation, she adds.

It’s okay to say “no” if you choose not to attend holiday parties or family gatherings, says Fitting, especially if you feel stressed out going. To keep feelings from being hurt and reducing potential problems it might be better to go but limit the time there, she says.

Also, you can choose not to take on the responsibilities and commitments to bring trays of treats, says Fitting. But if you choose to bring dessert, take the easy road. Instead of baking everything from scratch, buy a platter of cookies or a store-bought cake to lighten your load.

Combating the Holiday Blues

Maintaining healthy habits can also help you beat the holiday blues. “Try to eat healthy meals before holiday gatherings and minimize sugary desserts and alcohol consumed at the celebrations,” states Fitting. During the holidays, “continue your exercise routine, even if it is a scaled down version and get plenty of sleep,” she suggests, noting that this will help to reduce anxiety and depression, sleep better and keep the weight off.

Out of control holiday spending and last-minute shopping can increase holiday stress, too, says Fitting who suggests these tips to reduce gift costs: “Stick to your set budget to avoid guilt about buying gifts you cannot afford. Use coupons and sales to decrease spending costs. Agree to set the spending limits to no more than $ 20. Rather than buying presents for ten different people, play Secret Santa and each family member just buys one gift. Set the price and rules ahead of time and make sure everyone understands them. Or rather than buying presents collect cash to make a donation to an agreed upon charity,” she recommends.

Standing in long lines in the shopping mall can quickly become a source of stress, says Fitting. “One good solution is to double up and invite a family member or friend to shop. Waiting in a long line alone always feels like it takes twice as long as when you have someone to talk to.

You can get into the holiday spirit by starting a new tradition for yourself and family that you will enjoy, suggests Fitting. “Volunteering to help out with a Toys for Tots Drive, or at a soup kitchen. Giving back by volunteering can really help to boost your spirits,” she says.

Finally, Fitting says, “accept the fact that there will be mishaps along the way during the holidays. Try laughing at the unanticipated events and this certainly will help to reduce the undue stress experienced.”

Getting Professional Help When Needed

As Christmas and New Year’s approach, and you cannot shake the holiday blues, “it is important to be honest with yourself and your feelings. But, if the feelings of sadness still persist then you should go speak to a professional. Sometimes going for therapy to talk through your feelings will help to alleviate depression and anxiety. Sometimes prescribed medication along with therapy is necessary to help reduce symptoms.”

For those suffering the holiday blues, call The Providence Center at (401) 276 4020 or go to http://www.providence center.org.

Caregivers Taking Care of Persons with Dementia Have Unique Needs

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 9, 2018

Being a caregiver 24/7 to a person in relatively good health is a tough job. But, caring for someone with dementia, becomes a 36 hour, say Authors Nancy L. Mace and Peter V. Rabins, in their ground-breaking book (published in 1981) on providing care for those with the devastating mental disorder.

The Washington, DC-based AARP releases survey findings last month that takes a look at this “unique subset of caregivers” who are taking care of persons with dementia and other cognitive disorders. Caregiving takes a physical, and emotional toll on these individuals, forcing them to put in longer hours providing care and making adjustments at work and in their personal relationships, says the findings of the newly released study.

The AARP online national survey (of caregivers 18 and older) takes a look at the demands on 700 caregivers taking care of persons with dementia or other forms of cognitive impairments (most often their parents), as well as 400 caregivers who were providing care for a loved one without dementia. Regardless of the situation, on average, caregivers report having been caring for their loved one for almost 3 years.

“Family caregivers take on big responsibilities that can be physically, emotionally and financially challenging. AARP’s new research shows that this can be particularly true for those caring for loved ones with dementia,” said Nancy LeaMond, AARP Chief Advocacy and Engagement Officer, in a statement released with the study report, Caring for People with Dementia: Caregivers’ Experiences. “That’s why AARP has developed resources to help family caregivers balance their own needs with the needs of their loved one,” adds LeaMond.

The AARP Study Found…

Obviously, it is time consuming to be a caregiver. The AARP Survey’s findings, released on November 30, 2018, found that 7 in 10 of those surveyed spend less time with friends and more than half spend less time with other family members because of the intensity of caregiving responsibilities While 75 percent of the survey respondents reported that caring for someone with dementia has brought about closer relationships and more meaning to their lives, the findings also indicate that caregiving experiences bring greater challenges to their lives, too.

According to the 26-page AARP report’s findings, those caring for persons with dementia (more likely a parent) spend on average 13.7 hours per week caregiving while caregivers, taking care of persons with no cognitive afflictions, spend 11.7 hours (more likely a spouse or partner or a friend or neighbor). Three in ten of the caregiver respondents (over age 35) spend over 21 hours per week caregiving, says Study’s findings.

Most of the caregiver respondents providing care to persons with dementia see the devastating disorder’s slowly progressing over time. But younger caregivers perceive that the onset of cognitive decline as suddenly happening.

About 32 percent of the caregiver respondents providing more intense caregiving to persons with dementia say managing their emotions and the demands of care (26 percent) they deliver as the biggest challenges the face.

Caregivers taking care of persons with dementia also reported negative health behaviors. They slept less (71 percent), had more anxiety (65 percent) and depression (54 percent), and spent less time on themselves and with their friends. Research studies reveal that social isolation and loneliness are linked to poorer physical and mental health outcomes.

Not only are the millions of family caregivers for those with dementia less socially connected, they are significantly more likely to put off medical care – over half (55 percent) have done so, compared to just 38 percent among the total caregiver population. However, there were positive health behaviors identified in the poll as well – 79 percent took steps to maintain or improve their brain health and 47 percent exercised more.

About 62 percent of those taking care of persons with dementia state that their intense caregiving responsibilities have led them to working different hours, leaving work early (62 percent) or take paid (53 percent) and unpaid time off (47 percent) for caregiving duties, and also worry about their finances.

But, two-thirds of all caregivers surveyed say they feel closer to their loved one, but those taking care of persons with dementia were more likely to say their relationship with their loved one over time had grown further apart (22 percent) than others. Those caregivers of persons with dementia were more likely to say the relationship with other family has been strained.

Finally, caregiver respondents say that they are receiving what they need from health care providers yet those caring for someone with dementia also have sought out more information about caregiving and from a greater variety of sources.

The AARP survey was conducted October 1-10, 2018. Data are weighted by income, gender, and age according to caregiver benchmarks obtained in Caregiving in the U.S. (2015).

Finding Caregiver Resources

AARP helps family caregivers find the information and support they need to manage their own care along with their loved one’s care. Go to http://www.aarp.org/caregiving for more resources and information on family caregiving, including AARP’s Dementia Care Guide and the Community Resource Finder.

For more info, contact AARP Researcher G. Oscar Anderson at ganderson@aarp.org.

Report Details Ways to Improve Guardianship System in US

Published in the Woonsocket Call on December 2, 2018

Just days ago, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging held an afternoon hearing in the Senate Dirksen Office Building to alert Congress to appalling stories gathered across the nation regarding abusive guardianships that are taking advantage of vulnerable older adults. At this hearing the Senate Aging Committee also released its annual report that takes a look at an examination of guardianship arrangements including research and recommendations on ways to improve the nation’s guardianship system.

Although guardians provide a valuable and essential service for many older Americans, from deciding where an individual will live and when to seek medical care to choosing if family members are allowed to visit and how to spend retirement savings, unscrupulous guardians acting with little oversight have used legal guardianship proceedings to obtain control of vulnerable individuals and have then used that power to liquidate assets and life-time savings for their own personal gains.

Last April, the Committee held the first hearing in a two-part series this year on the abuse of power and exploitation of older Americans by guardians. The Committee also held a hearing on guardianship in 2016. The Nov. 28th hearing is a continuation of the Committee’s longstanding commitment to bring awareness and prevention to the financial exploitation of older Americans.

Putting the Spotlight on Unscrupulous Guardians

U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, put the legislative spotlight on this important legal issue and released the Committee’s 34-page report at the Wednesday hearing titled, “Ensuring Trust: Strengthening State Efforts to Overhaul the Guardianship Process and Protect Older Americans.”

The released Senate Aging Committee report is the culmination of a year-long examination of ways in which the legal system can be improved to better protect individuals subject to these and similar arrangements from abuse, neglect, and exploitation. It addresses three key areas – the importance of guardianship oversight, alternatives to guardianship, and the need for improved data and it makes 13 recommendations.

“An estimated 1.3 million adults are under the care of guardians – family members or professionals – who control approximately $50 billion of their assets,” said Collins, in her opening statement. “Guardianship is a legal relationship created by a court that is designed to protect those with diminished or lost capacity. We found, however, that in many cases, the system lacks basic protections leaving the most vulnerable Americans at risk of exploitation.,” she said.

“While most guardians act in the best interest of the individual they care for, far too often, we have heard horror stories of guardians who have abused, neglected or exploited a person subject to guardianship. As our report notes, there are persistent and widespread problems with guardianship arrangements nationwide,” says Casey in his opening statement. “This is why Senator Collins and I introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act to begin reforming the guardianship system to ensure the protection of seniors under guardian care from losing their rights, savings or possessions because a guardian abused their power,” he said.

Fixing the Nation’s Guardianship System

The Senate Aging Committee took testimony from four guardianship experts who gave their thoughts as to how to improve the system.

Cate Boyko, Senior Court Research Associate at the National Center for State Courts (NCSC), explained that the state court data it collected revealed that none of the states was able to fully report all the information on guardianships they requested. They found that the most serious issues involved local court authority, lack of standardized reporting, and limited technology.

Bethany Hamm, Acting Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, provided background information on the state’s Adult Protect Services and public guardianship program. Hamm discussed Maine Uniform Probate Code (UPC) enacted during the state’s last legislative session. The Maine UPC takes effect in July of next year and requires private guardians to report annually on the condition of the adult and account for money and other property in guardians’ possession or subject to guardians’ control.

Karen Buck, Executive Director at the Pennsylvania-based SeniorLAW Center, a nonprofit legal services agency, described the work her organization does to tackle issues such as guardianship through free legal representation, education, and advocacy for older Americans in Pennsylvania. She argued that guardianship remains an “important tool” to provide care for vulnerable seniors and therefore merits attention and reform.

Finally, Barbara Buckley, Executive Director at the Legal Aid Center of Southern Nevada, described the steps that her state has taken since 2014 to better protect individuals under guardianship. One year later, the Nevada Supreme Court created a Guardianship Commission to examine the guardianship system and recommend reforms., she said, detailing three significant areas of reform implemented in Nevada: the right to counsel, the protected person’s Bill of Rights and other statutory reforms, and the establishment of the Guardianship Compliance Office.

As a result of the Senate Aging Committee’s work to examine issues surrounding guardianship, Collins and Casey announced at this hearing that they were introducing the Guardianship Accountability Act. This bipartisan legislation would promote information sharing among courts and local organizations as well as state and federal agencies, encourage the use of background checks and less restrictive alternatives to guardianship, and expand the availability of federal grants to improve the guardianship system.

Congress Must Act

One of the report’s recommended actions to strengthen guardianship arrangements is for courts to conduct criminal background checks on ALL prospective guardians. To aid states in this pursuit, Casey and Collin’s legislation, the “Guardianship Accountability Act,” promotes oversight of guardianship arrangements and encourages information sharing among government agencies and with other relevant organizations. This bill would also allow states to fund data collection on guardianship arrangements and conduct background checks on guardians.

According to the National Center for State Courts, there are approximately 1.3 million adults and an estimated $50 billion of assets under guardianship arrangements. State courts are tasked with monitoring guardianships in order to protect individuals subject to guardianship from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Despite this responsibility, few states are able to provide courts with adequate resources to monitor guardianships effectively and hold guardians accountable.

When the new Congress begins, hopefully this legislation will sail through both chambers of Congress and be quickly signed by President Donald Trump. We will see…

To get the Senate Aging Committee’s guardianship report, go to http://www.aging.senate.
gov/imo/media/doc/Guardianship%20Report.pdf.

For a copy of the Guardianship Accountability Act, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/
Guardianship%20Accountability%20Act%20of%202018.pdf.

To watch the one hour and forty-seven-minute Senate Aging Committee hearing, go to http://www.aging.senate.
gov/hearings/ensuring-trust-strengthening-state-efforts-to-overhaul-the-guardianship-process-and-protect-older-americans.

Caregivers Can Take Advantage of Free Credit Freeze Law

Published in the Woonsocket Call on October 14, 2018

Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin touts a new federal consumer protection law, signed into law by President Donald Trump on May 24, 2018, that protects seniors from becoming victims of financial exploitation. Rhode Island’s Attorney General says that this law enhances Rhode Island’s law prohibiting credit reporting agencies from charging fees for credit freezes,(also referred to as a security freeze).

With enactment of the Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief, and Consumer Protection Act, all consumers can now freeze and unfreeze their credit file for free for one year. Before this new law, fees were assessed, usually costing from $3 to $10 (though some states were free) to restrict access to your credit file, making it harder for others to open new accounts in another person’s name.

The new law lets people with certain legal authority to act on someone else’s behalf to freeze and unfreeze their credit file. It defines a “protected consumer” as an incapacitated person, someone with an appointed guardian or conservator, or a child under the age of 16. In addition, it extends the duration of a fraud alert on a consumer’s credit report from 90 days to one year. A fraud alert requires businesses that check a consumer’s credit to get the consumer’s approval before opening a new account.

“Many instances of financial exploitation include a person opening up credit cards or using the credit file of another for personal gain and identity theft. This added layer of protection will allow a guardian or financial caregiver the ability better safeguard the older person from being taken advantage of by a stranger or even someone they know and thought they could trust,”says Kilmartin.

To place a credit freeze on their accounts, consumers will need to contact all three nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. If you’re acting on behalf of a protected consumer, you must give the credit reporting agencies proof of authority before you can freeze and unfreeze the protected consumer’s credit. Proof of authority includes: a court order (such as an order naming you guardian or conservator; a valid power of attorney, and proof of your identity, which can be a Social Security card, birth certificate, driver’s license or other government issued identification.

Whether consumers ask for a freeze online or by phone, the credit bureau must put the freeze in place within one business day. When consumers request to lift the freeze by phone or online, the credit bureaus must take that action within one hour. (If consumers make these requests by mail, the agency must place or lift the freeze within three business days).
To place a fraud alert, consumers need only contact one of the three credit bureaus, which will notify the other two bureaus.

Rhode Island’s Credit Freeze Law

Filed at the request of Kilmartin and enacted earlier this year, the Rhode Island law eliminates a provision of existing state law that allows reporting agencies to charge up to $10 to consumers who ask for a credit freeze.

The legislation, which the sponsors introduced on behalf of Rhode Island Attorney General Kilmartin, stems from the Equifax security breach last year during which the credit information of 143 million Americans was exposed. Initially, Equifax was charging consumers who asked for a credit freeze to protect themselves from its own security breach, although it stopped after intense public outcry and pressure from numerous attorneys general.

At the time the law was enacted, Kilmartin said, “This is a big victory for Rhode Island consumers, giving them greater control over who can access their personal and financial information. Credit bureaus make money from selling our personal information to third parties. They should not be able to profit off consumers who decide to take control over who has access to their personal data.”

Protecting Rhode Island’s Seniors

“AARP applauds all efforts to protect older Rhode Islanders from phone and online credit scams that lead to identity theft,” says AARP Rhode Island State Director Kathleen Connell. “Clearly, many consumers, and especially many of Rhode Island’s 134,000 caregivers, will consider taking advantage of this new option. It certainly complements the work we are doing as part of AARP Fraud Watch to thwart con artists who prey relentlessly on people of all ages.

“In the case of older Rhode Islanders, life savings can be at risk. “The new federal law allows caregivers to acquire legal authority to freeze a loved one’s credit reports, and that’s a good thing. But it is important to note that there are many things a caregiver should consider. Basically, caregivers need to have conversations about the threat and what everyone should be doing to protect against credit theft,” she added.

AARP’s John Martin said when he presents the Fraud Watch program to community groups he urges people to think about fraud prevention in the same way training and professional development is part of their work experience. “In the workplace, your job includes being up to speed on the latest policies, regulations and best practices,” Martin tells audiences. “Lawyers read law reviews, doctors read medical journals, tugboat captains read The Shipping News. Failure to do so could lead to a missed opportunity or a big mistake. Given the enormous threats out there, we all should consider keeping up on the latest scams and implementing precautions something like a part-time job that requires similar diligence. To do otherwise increases your risk and the stakes are frighteningly high.”

Connell warns not to forget the basics. “AARP provides common-sense advice, awareness and precautions as well as alerts when new scams are exposed or an old one reappears,” she says. “Don’t be passive and please do encourage older family members to be on guard. We are all in this together.”

Anyone can sign up for the free Fraud Watch Network service at http://www.aarp.org/RIFraudwatch to receive alerts and report scams or other suspicious activity.

Reporting Financial Exploitation

The Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General recommends that if you believe you or an older relative are victims of financial exploitation, contact your local police department, the Rhode Island Division of Elderly Affairs, or the Elder Abuse Unit at the Rhode Island Office of the Attorney General.

If you would like an investigator at the Elder Abuse Unit or an investigator with the Consumer Protection Unit to speak with your organization on the signs of elder abuse or how to protect from being a victim of a scam, please contact Mickaela Driscoll, Elder Abuse Investigator, at mdriscoll@riag.ri.gov or Martha Crippen, Director of the Consumer Protection Unit, at mcrippen@riag.ri.gov or by calling 401-274-4400.