Throughout the twentieth century, the Federal government took various legal steps to positively impact the lives of senior citizens, the disabled and the elderly in general. Throughout the 1930s a variety of retirement and pension programs were enacted, most significantly social security. 1952 saw the funding for social services programs targeted for the elderly and senior citizen population. The 1960s saw a number of progressive social legislation enacted, with 1965 as a particularly important year, with the implementation of Medicare as well as the Older Americans Act. The 1970s followed with many funding programs expanding the legislative enactments of the 1960s. For example, 1972 saw the funding for a national nutritional program for the elderly, which is known today as meals on wheels, while in 1973 Congress funded grants for local senior community centers.
OLDER AMERICANS ACT
For purposes of the prevention and coordination of the national response to elder abuse, the Older Americans Act, is perhaps the most significant and comprehensive federal law to deal with elder abuse. Currently the Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Aging manages the various programs flowing from the Older Americans Act. It ensures that each state has a sufficiently strong adult protective services program and a Long Term Care Ombudsman Program, which acts as a voice for residents of long term care facilities in the jurisdiction. These programs are necessary for the state to receive funding from the federal government.
FEDERAL EFFORTS TO HELP STATES
The Administration on Aging created The National Center on Elder Abuse in 1988 as a clearinghouse for states, experts and institutions to help detect, eliminate and remedy elder abuse. Accurate documentation of the problem is inherently difficult, as recognizing exploitative behavior, neglectful and risky actions or inactions by caretakers is not always so easy to determine let alone recognize. As such, estimates range from two to ten percent of the senior population, depending on the definitions and other variables. Criminals naturally prey on the more vulnerable, such as those with dementia or cognitive impairment. Approximately 50% of people with dementia experience some sort of abuse. It is unknown how many of those abusers go unpunished and unrecognized. As for neglect, a particularly disturbing example of neglect can be found here.
Despite the problem and the various programs that Congress created in years past, some Senators recognize that the federal budgetary outlay is thin. For example, in 2011 the national outlay to prevent elder abuse was only $11.7 million. As such, Congress enacted the Elder Justice Act of 2009 with the creation of the Federal Elder Justice Coordinating Council, with cabinet level members to direct federal policy and to advise the White House and Congress. Similar to the National Center on Elder Abuse, the Department of Justice also has a similar resource for prosecutors to help detect and successfully prosecute acts of elder abuse, although the resources dedicated to this endeavor are not as robust as the National Center. In addition to the efforts of the government, a fair number of national advocacy groups help to fill the void. Some of those same groups are funded in part by grants provided by the federal government. By most measures the problem is so large that the efforts cannot fully address the myriad of issues that are involved.