Older New Yorkers grew up and raised their families at a time when people knew their neighbors, the doors to homes were left unlocked, and kids left their bikes in the yard. Times were simpler then, and trust was a revered value. Today, the elderly often face a very different social environment. Age-related impairments many times add a dimension of vulnerability and dependency on others. All too often, we read and hear of incidents of seniors being assaulted or the victims of scams, financial exploitation or theft. The National Center for Elderly Abuse estimates that 30,000 seniors across the state have fallen victim to some kind of abuse or exploitation.
Without a doubt, crimes against the elderly are unconscionable, and we cannot tolerate criminals who prey on our seniors. To address the problem, the Assembly has passed a comprehensive package of bills that toughens penalties for physically abusing the elderly and preying on them financially.
One of the key bills in the package makes assaulting a senior citizen a class D violent felony if a person 65 years or older is assaulted by someone more than 10 years younger. This legislation has passed both the Assembly and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Paterson on April 25. The Senate has also now added its approval of legislation requiring the state police to enhance and develop materials and procedures relating to elder abuse to aid in their investigations, and this measure will be transmitted to the Governor for his consideration.
Another bill in the package approved by the Assembly would increase the penalty from a class A misdemeanor to a class E felony if more than one elderly person is victimized by a scam artist, and yet another would add an experienced elder law attorney to the state’s Crime Victims Board, thereby providing a valuable perspective for cases involving older New Yorkers.
To help protect seniors’ assets and rights, the Assembly’s legislative package grants seniors the ability to sue for intentional damages inflicted because of their age, requires landlords to repay security deposits at the end of tenancy and to itemize deductions against security deposits, and institutes additional safeguards for incapacitated seniors and others who have given a power of attorney. Also, debt collectors would be prohibited from seizing Social Security, Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security and veterans’ benefits in bank accounts up to $2,500, and collections personnel would have to give notice to debtors that such funds are exempt from seizure.
We need to keep vulnerable older New Yorkers safe and provide law enforcement with the proper tools to apprehend and prosecute those who prey on the elderly. These legislative initiatives are a definite step in the right direction.