Grant to fund quality resources for seniors seeking legal advice

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MONTPELIER >> The at-risk older adults in Vermont, a growing population, now have better access to quality legal advice, thanks to the Administration for Community Living grant.

For three years each, $178,500 will allow for expansion of outreach services with the efforts of Vermont Legal Aid and Vermont Agency of Human Services' Department of Disabilities and Independent Living (DAIL). From 2009 to 2014, the organizations had the same funding to establish a statewide hotline for legal advice, but regained this grant as a phase two part of the extension. Now, actual attorneys answer the hotline, more outreach clinics can be held all over the state and resources on the Vermont Legal Aid's website will be updated.

"We'll be identifying seniors that have priority legal issues and be representing them," Michael Benvenuto, elder law project director at Vermont Legal Aid said. "Any senior can call and get legal help. We're going to do a lot of outreach and training and education activities, but haven't come up with the training curriculum yet."

Seniors facing social or economic needs are urged to use the hotline as a resource. For example, seniors are more at-risk for scams or being taken advantage of by people they know. In May, a 64-year-old from Stamford sent a total of $4,500 to two different subjects as part of a scam.

According to the Vermont State Plan on Aging the median age in Vermont is 42.6, making it the second oldest state in the nation. About 16 percent of the population was over the age of 65 in 2012 and by 2032 it's expected to rise to 23.8 percent, ranking it the oldest state.

"The importance of access to quality legal assistance and supports cannot be understated for Vermont's older adults," Monica Caserta Hutt, DAIL Commissioner, said in a press release. "This grant provides us with the opportunity to support that growing need and to enhance our collaborations with community partners on behalf of Vermonters."

Benvenuto explained that some seniors reside in rental properties and have questions about their rights or how to prepare a will. He added that the hotline is limited to civil cases only.

The Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging could not comment on the new grant. However, Benvenuto said more outreach will be conducted in Bennington County. He said the agency has had great success in Castleton and plans to work its way down the state.

The Administration for Community Living is part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and is headed by the Administrator, who reports directly to the Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Vermont Legal Aid is a non-profit law firm that offers legal advice on civil issues to individuals and families throughout the state, and has been operating since 1968. For more information visit vtlegalaid.org. The hotline can be reached at 1-800-889-2047 on Monday, Wednesday and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and Tuesday and Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

— Makayla-Courtney McGeeney can be reached at (802)-447-7567, ext. 118.


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