Oliver, Handlin, Vainieri Huttle & Quijano Bipartisan Bill to Combat Abuse against the Elderly & Disabled Heads to Gov’s Desk

Legislation is Result of Ongoing Meetings between Oliver, Handlin & Stakeholders throughout NJ

Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Sheila Oliver, Amy Handlin, Valerie Vainieri Huttle and Annette Quijano to combat abuse and fraud against the elderly and disabled in New Jersey gained final legislative approval unanimously from the full Assembly on Thursday.

The legislation is the result of ongoing discussions between former Speaker Oliver, Deputy Republican Leader Handlin and more than a dozen prominent stakeholder agencies and corporations from throughout the state to help senior citizens avoid being swindled by unscrupulous scammers.

Specifically, the bill (A-1120) would establish the "New Jersey Task Force on Abuse Against the Elderly and Disabled."

"This type of abuse is particularly heartbreaking because it violates some of our most vulnerable and innocent populations," said Oliver (D-Essex/Passaic). "As a compassionate society, we can and should be doing more to prevent this exploitation. That requires a concerted and continual effort by a wide variety of agencies and organizations, which this bill will bring together."

"The best weapon to assist the elderly from being conned by predators is giving them useful tips on how these con artists operate," said Handlin (R-Monmouth). "Many of these swindlers operate offshore and are difficult to apprehend. Senior citizens must be made aware of the tricks and devious ways they solicit money or obtain personal information. Scammers not only prey on the elderly and disabled, but any unsuspecting individual," explained Handlin. "Regardless of education or business experience, everyone is a potential target. The worst thing to think is that it could never happen to you or a loved one."

The bill would create an 11-member task force that would be required to evaluate current policies that are designed to protect older adults and persons with disabilities from instances of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation; identify any existing circumstances that might allow for the inadequate protection of this population; and develop recommendations for more effective and efficient legislation, policies, and strategies.  

"Combating physical and mental abuse has always been a paramount concern and now the Internet has opened the floodgates for many new types of predatory actions," said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen). "Our hope is that this bill will lead to a comprehensive strategy to combat abuse against the elderly and disabled."

"Unscrupulous predators exist in many forms. Sometimes, sadly, they may even be friends or family," said Quijano (D-Union). "The goal of the taskforce is to create a multi-pronged approach to both protect the elderly and disabled and raise their level of awareness to they can help protect themselves."

The task force would consist of the following members: the Commissioners of Health and Human Services, the Ombudsman for the Institutionalized Elderly, and the President of the New Jersey State Municipal Prosecutors' Association, or their designees, who would serve ex officio; the State Director of the AARP; a representative from Adult Protective Services in the Division of Aging Services in the Department of Human Services; and five public members having relevant knowledge of, or experience in, matters related to the abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation of older adults or persons with disabilities. Three public members would be appointed by the Governor, one public member would be appointed by the Senate President, and one public member would be appointed by the Speaker of the General Assembly.  

Task force members would serve without compensation, but could be reimbursed for travel and other necessary expenses incurred in the performance of their duties, within the limits of funds appropriated or otherwise made available to the task force for its purposes. The bill would also authorize the task force to solicit and receive grants and other funds that are made available for the task force's purposes.

Within 12 months after the organizational meeting, the task force would be required to submit a written report to the Governor and the Legislature containing its findings and recommendations for legislative and other action that may be necessary to address and prevent the abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation of older adults and persons with disabilities.  

The National Center on Elder Abuse notes that this type of abuse can happen domestically by a spouse, caregiver or relative or institutionally at places like nursing homes, assisted living facilities, etc. According to the center, the most recent major studies on elder abuse reported that close to 10 percent of participants experienced physical abuse in the prior year, however one study estimated that only one in 14 cases ever comes to the attention of authorities. Moreover, major financial exploitation was self-reported at a rate of 41 per 1,000 surveyed.

Among the stakeholders that have met with Oliver and Handlin and offered their expertise or pledged their support on this issue are: AARP, Citizen Action, Barnabas Health Systems, NJ Black Issues Convention, Verizon, AT&T, Essex County Division on Senior Services, Sussex County Area on Aging, NJ National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, NJ Food Council, NJ State Library, Garden State Pharmacy Owners, NJ Bankers' Association, Rutgers School of Social Work, Valley National Bank and NJ Transit.

Oliver and Handlin hope to continue working with the group to devise more strategies to combat abuse against the elderly and disabled. The lawmakers urged individuals to read the following article for important information on how a person can protect themselves: "Top 10 Senior Scams and How to Avoid Them."  

The bill now heads to the Governor's desk.