As we close the holiday season, we are reminded that one sad reality, elder abuse, takes no holiday. In fact, recent studies show that abuse of older adults, especially financial abuse, increases dramatically during the holiday season. Today, more than one in ten older adults will be victims of some form of elder abuse, with a collective loss of almost $3 billion a year.
Just before adjourning for the holiday, Congress passed a massive spending bill for the rest of this fiscal year. For the second year in a row, Congress failed to provide funding for the only comprehensive federal elder abuse prevention law -- the Elder Justice Act. This is both shameful and shortsighted. Less than two years ago, in a bi-partisan basis, Congress enacted the Elder Justice Act and signaled its recognition that elder abuse is a growing problem that requires a coordinated and comprehensive federal response to effectively combat it. This law simply authorizes funds. A second bill must be passed to actually put the law into action. President Obama asked Congress to provide $21.5 million in startup funds for the Elder Justice Act in his budget for 2012, and Congress ignored this request.
Victims cannot march on Washington to demand justice, and they should not have to. One victim, legendary actor Mickey Rooney did, when he testified before Congress about his personal experience as a victim of elder abuse. Mr. Rooney drew many cameras to the hearing, but his story did not motivate the rest of Congress to provide critical funding.
We are about to start a new year. The focus for 2012 will be both policy and politics. Both parties will covet and compete for the older voter. Older voters continue to be the most reliable voter and their numbers are increasing. Older voters represented 23 percent of the voting population in 2010 -- up from 16 percent in 2008. They respond to actions taken, not promises made. The older voter is concerned about threats to the future of Social Security and Medicare, and more directly, their own safety and financial security. Elder abuse is an ever present threat which must be thwarted, and they expect the federal government to be involved.
Our bi-partisan 3000-member Elder Justice Coalition intends to make funding for elder abuse prevention a political imperative to Congress and to candidates for President. Funding for the Elder Justice Act will promote jobs, protect older adults and prevent unnecessary spending by Medicaid and Medicare. The amount needed to fund elder justice is about $200 million a year, or about 5 percent of what was recovered last year by the federal government in fraud and waste in Medicare and Medicaid. It is time to end the shame and fund elder justice.
Robert B. Blancato is the National Coordinator of the Elder Justice Coalition, Washington D.C. www.elderjusticecoalition.com.