AUGUSTA – A bill introduced by Rep. Drew Gattine to protect older adults from financial exploitation earned unanimous final support from the Maine House on Monday.
The bill, LD 1348, would fund Maine’s Area Agencies on Aging’s Money Minders program that offers personal financial management assistance to older adults. This highly successful program has been in existence for more than a decade but has been supported only through unpredictable charitable gifts and foundation support. Gattine’s bill ensures that sustainable, ongoing funding is available.
“Money Minders helps older Mainers maintain independence and financial security,” said Gattine, D-Westbrook, House chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services. “It matches well-trained, skilled, insured volunteers with clients who need help getting their monthly bills paid in a timely and accurate manner.”
Nationally, older adults lose an estimated $2.9 billion per year to financial abuse.
In 2012, more than 14,000 older Mainers were victims of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation, according to the state’s Office of Aging and Disabilities Services.
Gattine’s bill provides ongoing funding to the program that assists older adults with managing their personal finances.
“Many of our older adults live alone and do not have the support they need to protect their assets,” Gattine said. “This program is important to ensuring our elderly are well cared for and are not taken advantage of by fraudsters.”
Jessica Maurer, executive director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging and co-chair of the Maine Council on Aging, testified in support of the legislation at its public hearing last month.
“In 2012, the Department of Justice has found that 11 percent (1 in 9) of adults over the age of 60 reported experiencing at least one form of mistreatment in the past year,” Maurer said. “One in five of these older adults was a victim of financial exploitation.”
Money Minders helps older adults maintain their independence. Many have physical disabilities such as Parkinson’s, severe arthritis or blindness that prevent them from physically writing checks. Others are widows or widowers who were never in charge of finances in their homes and need help making a budget or balancing a checkbook. Some are experiencing mild cognitive impairments but are still able to make decisions if given some support.
Maine Long-Term Care Ombudsman Brenda Gallant testified in support of the legislation in early May.
“Money Minders is a very good idea for assisting seniors to retain their independence,” Gallant said. “It helps with the prevention of scams that occur all too often and may go unreported. It gives seniors some advocacy support if family members or others attempt to financially exploit them. It is a program that has proven its effectiveness over time but has not received the funding support it deserves.”
Money Minders is staffed by volunteers who are matched with adults over the age of 55 who need help establishing and maintaining a monthly budget, ensuring bills get paid accurately and on time. The volunteers help older adults to avoid over-drafting their bank accounts, financial fraud and scams that target older adults.
According to the National Center for Elder Abuse, 5 million elders are abused in the United States every year. Forty percent of all elder abuse involves financial exploitation, and 60 percent of that elderly financial exploitation is perpetrated by adult children.
A study by the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services found that the top methods used to exploit older adults were bank withdrawals at 44 percent, credit card misuse or identity theft at 35 percent, stealing or forging checks at 25 percent and car theft at 19 percent.
The bill faces further action in the Senate.
Gattine is serving his second term in the Maine Legislature and represents part of Westbrook.