Thursday, November 13, 2008

Survey on Free Legal Services to Seniors

On November 12, 2008, Linda M. Anderson, as Chair of the Elder Law Section of the Pennsylvania Bar Association, sent an email message to Section members seeking input, through a grant-supported survey on legal services to senior citizens, about pro bono legal programs in Pennsylvania.

With permission granted by the PBA, and after an exchange of email with Linda, I repost her message:

The Pennsylvania Bar Association's Pro Bono Office and the PBA's Elder Law Section are pleased to be partners with the PA Department of Aging and SeniorLAW Center, who have secured a grant from The U.S. Administration on Aging, which has enabled us to make a comprehensive assessment of county pro bono programs and other legal services throughout Pennsylvania.

The Elder Law Section has created an online survey to collect information necessary to determine strengths and weaknesses in providing those services and help identify unmet legal needs of senior citizens throughout the state.

The Section asks all its
members to participate in the online survey to help it assess the pro bono system currently in place and its accessibility to Pennsylvania's seniors. * * *

Thank you for taking the time to participate in this very important project. It will give us such valuable information for determining the steps needed to give our senior citizens the legal support they need.

Please complete the survey by November 30, 2008.
[Links & highlights added]
Such a grant appears to derive from the AoA's support of Senior Legal Services, as described in its 2006 Annual Report entitled "Modernizing Older Americans Act Programs" (29 pages; DOC format- 1.4MB; PDF format - 813KB):
The OAA is one of the top funding sources for low-income senior legal assistance. There are approximately 1,000 OAA-funded legal services providers nationwide, which help to ensure that older Americans receive legal assistance and critical information.

AoA’s legal programs help older Americans and their caregivers address threats to home ownership (such as predatory lending and consumer scams), obtain financial powers of attorney or guardianships that can prevent or stop financial exploitation, and apply for public benefits that promote health and independence. * * *
Prior Annual Reports (2003-2005) are available online, but none have been issued since 2006.

The referenced survey project in Pennsylvania appears to be one of the types mentioned in the 2006 Annual Report on page 23:

In addition, AoA currently funds eight Grants to Enhance Access to Senior Legal Services and six new Model Approaches to Statewide Legal Assistance Systems, which provide States with cost-effective ways to increase the number of seniors who receive this type of assistance.

The purpose of the Model Approaches grants is to develop models for statewide legal services development and delivery systems that coordinate the efforts of senior legal helplines, Title III-B legal resources, private bar pro bono activities, law school clinics and self-help sites to ensure maximum impact from limited resources.

Upon completion of the three-year grant period, grantees are expected to present cost-effective examples of integrated State legal services delivery systems that increase overall access to legal services within their States.

These grants are intended to enhance statewide consistency and efficiency in senior legal services program delivery through incorporating the use of low-cost legal services mechanisms into the State legal services planning and development process. * * *
Some of the eighteen questions in the PBA Elder Law Section's online survey seek to gauge the effectiveness of two services already providing legal information or local referrals for seniors citizens in Pennsylvania.

ProBono.Net, a national association of lawyers, can arrange free legal services to qualifying low-income people in many states, including Pennsylvania.

PA Law Help, on its website, summarizes Pennsylvania law & resources on various topics. Its Elder Law section lists these subtopics:

Consumer Issues for Seniors
Family Issues for Seniors
Elder Abuse and Exploitation
Guardianships, Powers of Attorney and Living Wills
Housing and Homeownership
Medical Assistance

Nursing Homes
Social Security
Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
Wills and Estates
For senior citizens (age 60+) in Pennsylvania, the toll-free Pennsylvania SeniorLAW Helpline, associated with PA Law Help, remains one of the best legal referral and information resources available.

It is staffed by lawyers who can
address, over the telephone, many concerns raised by senior citizens, including:
  • Consumer problems (credit, debt, bankruptcy)
  • Health care, including Medicare Part D
  • Estate planning (wills, powers of attorney)
  • Pensions - government and private
  • Family law (divorce, custody, domestic violence)
  • Housing (landlord-tenant, deeds, utilities)
Seniors may call that helpline at 1-877-PA SR LAW (1-877-727-7529) for legal information, Monday through Friday, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.