The Senate passed bipartisan legislation to step up enforcement against perpetrators of crimes targeting senior citizens. The Elder Abuse Prevention and Protection Act of 2017, introduced by Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), passed by a voice vote Tuesday evening.
“This legislation will enhance our response to the cowardly criminals who try to exploit America’s seniors. Families across America, including in my home state of Iowa, have been victimized by such crimes, and as the population ages, we can expect more and more victims if we don’t act. The Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act takes meaningful steps to equip law enforcement, seniors and caregivers with additional tools so they can deter these crimes and hold perpetrators accountable,” Grassley said.
“Our bipartisan legislation will help prevent the utterly unconscionable scourge of elder abuse and hold its shameful perpetrators accountable. Far too many seniors in our country are abused or exploited by the very people who are supposed to care for them. This issue hit home in Connecticut with the tragic case of Purple Heart recipient Robert Matava. A national hero, he deserved the best care during his golden years. Instead, he was defrauded and left penniless by those he trusted most. Abuse of our country’s elders is too often overlooked, and we must do everything in our power to ensure their financial security and physical safety,” Blumenthal said.
Elder financial exploitation has been called “the crime of the 21st century.” Studies indicate that it could be the most widespread form of elder abuse, costing older Americans as much as $36 billion each year; and many seniors are reluctant to report the crime. This legislation expands data collection and information sharing to better prevent and respond to all forms of elder abuse and exploitation, including financial crimes against seniors.
Specifically, the bill increases training for federal investigators and prosecutors and calls for the designation of at least one prosecutor in each federal judicial district who will be tasked with handling cases of elder abuse. It also ensures that the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection and the Justice Department will both have an elder justice coordinator.
Finally, to deter future crimes against seniors, the bill increases penalties for perpetrators – including mandatory forfeiture.
Last year, the bipartisan 3,000-member Elder Justice Coalition called the bill, “one of the most comprehensive and meaningful bills ever developed to address the rapidly increasing problem of elder financial abuse in America.” The bill also has the support of Consumers Union, SIFMA, the 60 Plus Association, the Alzheimer’s Association and the National Center for Victims of Crime, among others.
Along with Grassley and Blumenthal, the bill is cosponsored by Senators Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), John Cornyn (R-Texas), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Susan Collins (R-Maine.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii).
Last year, Grassley chaired a Judiciary Committee hearing to examine how best to protect older Americans from financial abuse. Grassley also launched several inquiries to combat crimes against seniors and worked to raise greater awareness for such issues facing seniors.