Earlier this month, I was honored to chair the first Elder Justice Coordinating Council meeting of the Biden-Harris Administration. Created by the Elder Justice Act of 2010, the EJCC brings together federal departments, agencies, and entities administering programs related to elder abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation to coordinate a national elder justice response. In conjunction with the meeting, ACL launched a new EJCC website which we will continue to update over the coming months.
The meeting touched on a wide range of issues, including the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and social isolation, the connection between elder justice and advancing equity, and the importance of partnerships. The meeting featured a variety of dedicated leaders including Health and Human Services Deputy Secretary Andrea Palm and Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta.
Below are just a few highlights and take-aways from the meeting.
COVID and Social Isolation
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the lives of all Americans, and especially older adults, shifting the elder justice landscape in the process. COVID-19 has shone a light on the risks of abuse, neglect, and exploitation faced by older adults, especially when experiencing social isolation and the loss of both formal home and community-based services and support from friends and family.
Several agencies spoke about the emergence of COVID-related scams and ongoing efforts to address them. In addition, CFPB Director Chopra expressed concern about how the growing role of private equity in the nursing home industry has impacted care, especially during the pandemic.
At the same time, the pandemic response has led to new investments in elder justice and a development of new program models. For example, AmeriCorps Seniors has prioritized elder justice in the demonstration program created with funding from the American Rescue Plan, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service has experienced success providing "tele-victim services" to people targeted by fraud and scams.
Another major theme touched on by every single agency was equity and the importance of reaching people facing additional barriers that can increase the risk or impact of maltreatment—including older adults in communities of color, rural communities, and the LGBTQ+ community.
As HHS Dep. Sec. Palm put it, "elder justice is not just a public health issue; it is also an issue of equity and inclusion."
One notable resource mentioned during the meeting is an October Federal Trade Commission report examining the impact of fraud in communities of color. One finding in the report was that people in majority Black and Latino communities disproportionately report paying scammers using methods with few fraud protections, such as cash, cryptocurrency, debit cards, and money orders.
In addition to ensuring marginalized communities are included in data, many members discussed the importance of outreach. For example, the Department of Labor discussed the importance of devoting resources to language access and translating materials and the Federal Trade Commission discussed the importance of outreach to ethnic communities.
In addition, many agencies—including the Federal Communications Commission and the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security—discussed the importance of accessible facilities, technology, and services in protecting the rights of people with disabilities, including many older adults.
A third unmistakable theme was the importance of collaboration between federal agencies and with state, local, and community-based partners.
One great example of a federal partnership highlighted by Associate AG Gupta was the fourth annual Money Mule Initiative which brought enforcement actions against people who receive and move money obtained from victims of fraud, usually at the direction of international fraudsters. The initiative is a partnership between seven enforcement agencies including the Department of Justice, FBI, U.S. Postal Inspection Service, Department of Labor, Department of Homeland Security, and Department of the Treasury. This year’s initiative took action against 4,750 people acting as "money mules," doubling the size of last year's enforcement. In addition, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, ACL, and AmeriCorps Seniors are joining the partnership to increase public awareness about this type of fraud.
"To me the success of this initiative is emblematic of what we can accomplish when we actually harness all of our collective strengths across our agencies," Associate AG Gupta told the Council.
The day after the EJCC meeting, HHS and the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced another exciting partnership to improve access to affordable, accessible housing and supportive services.
EJCC members also have been working with, and strengthening, community-based organizations. At ACL, our aging and disability networks have long been valued partners for federal elder justice efforts and we are constantly looking for new partners. This year, for the first time, we awarded grants to the highest courts in seven states to develop overall approaches and innovations to improve the experiences of adults at risk of guardianship and conservatorship.
The EJCC shared many more examples of community partnerships. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Federal Emergency Management Agency described partnerships including AARP and other community-based organizations to raise awareness about fraud among older adults.
Bringing all of these themes together, the Social Security Administration described an initiative to improve outreach and services for people facing barriers that included partnerships with community-based organizations and adding staff to field offices to facilitate these partnerships. The initiative is helping address gaps exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
These are only a few of the many topics discussed during the meeting. If you were not able to tune in live, you can watch a recording of the meeting here.
We know that it will take an all-of-government approach to make our shared vision of elder justice and community inclusion a reality. It is incredible to reflect on the progress we have made in the years since the EJCC first convened in 2012. We have a lot of progress to build upon and so many opportunities to do more. The work of advancing elder justice has never been more important, or more urgent.
HHS Deputy Secretary Palm spoke for all of us when she said, "we will not rest until we know that every older adult is living with the security and dignity they deserve."