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Oliver, Handlin, Vainieri Huttle & Quijano Bipartisan Bill Package to Combat Abuse against the Elderly & Disabled Gains Assembly Panel Approval

New Policy Strategy is Result of Ongoing Meetings between Oliver, Handlin & Stakeholders throughout NJ

An Assembly panel on Monday approved a bipartisan package of bills 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.

The bipartisan legislation approved today 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. The bills are a legislative response to help senior citizens avoid being swindled by unscrupulous scammers.

The first bill (A-1120) would establish the “New Jersey Task Force on Abuse Against the Elderly and Disabled” and the second bill (A-590) would require the state to disseminate information to protect seniors against fraud.

“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 these bills will bring together. Hopefully, this will also raise awareness amongst seniors of the many types of unsavory and predatory scammers that exist.”

“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.”

Specifically, the first bill, which is sponsored by Oliver, Handlin, Vainieri Huttle and Quijano, 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.

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.

“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 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.

The second bill, which is sponsored by Handlin and Oliver, would require the Director of the Division of Consumer Affairs to prepare a notice about fraudulent practices that affect senior citizens and requires the Commissioner of Human Services to ensure its distribution.

Under the bill, the notice must include, at a minimum, information to alert senior citizens about the different ways in which they may be contacted for, or lured into providing, information or funds for a fraudulent purpose, and the ways to prevent the loss of funds or identity theft.

Organizations that receive state funding from the Department of Human Services and send printed or electronic communications to senior citizens must include with their communications the notice prepared by the Division of Consumer Affairs.

Both bills were approved by the Assembly Human Services Committee, which is chaired by Vainieri Huttle.

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.”