Various programs have recently been enacted in Michigan for the purpose of preventing and/or minimizing some of the challenges facing seniors in an effort to help them maintain a high quality of life.
- In March 2019, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel announced the formation of the Elder Abuse Task Force. In September, the task force unveiled a uniform investigative and reporting form for Michigan law enforcement to use when investigating suspected abuse of senior citizens. Complimenting the new form was a release of a list of best practices for abuse investigations was also released.
- In October 2017, House Bill Number 5131 was introduced in the Michigan House of Representatives, meant to protect against financial exploitation of seniors. The bill would allow investment brokers and financial advisors to place a temporary hold on a disbursement of funds or securities from an account of an individual if they suspect that financial exploitation of the specified adult has occurred, is occurring, has been attempted, or will be attempted.
- In October 2019, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services announced a $1 million grant package that will benefit 12 organizations across Michigan in their work to address elder abuse and increase reporting of the crime in communities across the state.
- On the federal level, a bill called the Protection of Social Security Benefits Restoration Act was introduced in the U.S. Senate in May 2019. It would prevent the garnishment of social security benefits by the federal government to collect federal debts, such as student loans, home loans owed to the Veterans Administration and food stamp overpayments.
Nearly a quarter of Michigan’s residents are age 60 and older. While Michigan’s senior citizen population consists of individuals who are thriving and contributing to society in many ways, it’s inevitable that we all will need a bit of a helping hand as we age. Support comes in many forms and from many places, such as family, church, and community. Aiding and protecting seniors is also an increasingly important focus of our legal, legislative, and regulatory systems in Michigan. From elder abuse to financial fraud, seniors are unfortunately being victimized at an alarming rate in Michigan and across the country.
According to the National Center on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans age 60 and over have experienced some form of elder abuse, yet studies estimate that only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported to authorities. The State of Michigan’s Department of Attorney General reports that more than 73,000 Michigan seniors have experienced some form of elder abuse.
The U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (“CFPB”), which analyzed financial fraud involving seniors, called the problem “widespread and damaging.” The CFPB found that financial fraud resulted in $6 billion in attempted and actual losses between 2013 and 2017.
In 2017 alone, 63,500 reports of suspicious financial activity involving seniors totaled $1.7 billion.
At the same time that seniors are being targeted by financial fraudsters, their personal balance sheets are weakening. According to a report issued by the nonprofit Employee Benefit Research Institute, seniors are carrying more debt than ever before into retirement. In 2016, the average debt in families in which the head of the household is age 75 or older was $36,757. That is up from $30,288 in 2010. The Congressional Research Service reports that the number of seniors who hold debt rose 38% between 1989 and 2016. Average mortgage debt among seniors grew from $12,970 to $57,943 during that period.
The number of Americans who are age 65 and older is projected to nearly double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million by 2060. The 65-and-older age group’s share of the total population will rise from 16% to 23% during that time period. As the population gets older, incidences of abuse against senior citizens will become more frequent unless steps are taken to stop them. As evidenced by recent state and federal legislation meant to curb elder abuse, such steps are underway.
We will continue to monitor the progress of these and other programs in the coming year.