Senior Law Project: Fostering Independence and Dignity

In my culture, when the parents get older, their children are supposed to take care of them. I was so sad to hear my children say to me, ‘We are in America now. We are struggling ourselves—why can’t you pull your own weight and contribute your Social Security checks to us?’ I didn’t have anyone else in this country, and I didn’t know how to say no to my son and daughter-in-law. ” – Client of API Legal Outreach

API Legal Outreach continued its long history of providing legal services to seniors throughout the Bay Area in such areas as:

  • Public Benefits Maintenance and Appeals
  • Eviction Assistance and Prevention
  • Abuse Prevention and Intervention
  • Immigration and Naturalization
  • Wills and Trusts
  • Estate planning
  • Consumer fraud
  • Elder abuse
  • Conservatorships
  • Planning for long term care
  • Tax controversies

At senior centers, churches, senior meal sites, legal clinics, and clients’ homes, our staff worked closely with community partners to ensure that our services continue to be accessible to those in need. Beyond legal assistance, and as part of our holistic approach to elder care, each case is carefully screened in order to address all legal and social service needs by working closely with social service partners.

Preventing Elder Abuse

I was so surprised to get a call from a collection agency saying that I owed them $7,000 from a credit card debt. But I had never had a credit card before. I didn’t even know what that was. When API Legal Outreach helped me get a credit report, I was so sad to see five accounts opened in my name by my son without my knowledge. API Legal Outreach helped me file credit card fraud reports and take care of the problem. When I felt depressed about what my son had done, API Legal Outreach referred me to other social services to receive counseling and support. Thank you, API Legal Outreach.” – Client of API Legal Outreach

Elder abuse continues to be a vastly underreported and misunderstood issue within the API and general community. Elder abuse is the hidden tragedy in conflict with its tradition of respect for elders. Abuse later in life is a particularly delicate topic since the abuser is frequently a spouse, adult child, or other family member. By coming forward as a victim of elder abuse, the victim is potentially severing the relationship with their abuser or bringing stigma and shame upon the family. The elderly victim is often dependent on the abuser for financial assistance as well as housing. Many API cultures place value on self-sacrifice for group stability and thus it is believed that API seniors are the least likely to seek help in cases of physical, emotional, and financial abuse.

Immigration and Naturalization

With the ongoing changes in both the infrastructure and regulations of Citizenship and Immigration Services, there continues to be a high demand for legal services in immigration law and naturalization. API Legal Outreach counsels, advises and represents several hundred clients each year in the area of immigration law and is one of only a few nonprofit agencies still providing direct services in this area. Our staff provides free legal services for seniors and disabled adults in applying for citizenship including preparation of their applications and legal representation at their naturalization interviews.

Advocacy and Training

Third parties, such as good Samaritans, social service advocates, bankers, clergy, health professionals, and first responders are often in a better position to identify elder abuse but are often untrained to identify such abuse especially with a limited English speaking senior.

Identifying the many barriers preventing seniors from obtaining assistance led API Legal Outreach to found the API Elder Abuse Task Force in 2000. The Task Force works with other community and city agencies such as Canon Kip, Self-Help for the Elderly, Kimochi, On Lok, Protection and Advocacy, Veterans Equity Center, Adult Protective Services, the District Attorney’s Office, the Mayor’s Long-Term Care Council and the API Partnership for Community-Based Care and Support to strengthen services, provide technical assistance, and conduct community trainings about the prevalence of elder abuse and the availability of culturally and linguistically competent resources.

API Legal Outreach staff also provided trainings and technical support to a variety of organizations and agencies in the area of elder abuse in the API communities. Recently, the elder abuse project has provided elder abuse trainings at Portsmouth Square, at single residence occupancies in Chinatown and the Tenderloin, Visitacion Valley Community Center, Vietnamese Elderly Mutual Aid Association, and Canon Kip Senior Center. API Legal Outreach has also worked with Victim Services of the San Francisco District Attorney’s Office to develop and implement a comprehensive, culturally competent API elder abuse training program for police officers, district attorneys and court personnel.

Protecting the Vulnerable

Beyond legal representation of abused seniors, API Legal Outreach provided free and low-cost legal services in the areas of estate planning, conservatorships, and powers of attorney to proactively protect seniors from financial abuse and maintain their financial independence. Planning for incapacity is often distasteful for people of all ages, but such careful planning works to prevent financial abuse in later years. Further, APILO attorneys teamed with case mangers and social workers to provide holistic care as well as served vulnerable clients as trustees and fiduciaries.

Advocating for the Safety Net

Many Bay Area seniors rely on government benefits and Social Security retirement in order to make ends meet. Due to the severe cuts in funding many senior serving services have been reduced or eliminated while the populations of older adults swells causing a ripple effect among the elders looking for legal or social services. Some lawmakers and politicians unfairly blamed safety net programs for the state’s budget problems causing the most vulnerable populations like seniors to live in fear of homelessness and hunger. API has been faced with increases in clients seeking help with retaining public benefits as the state of California cut In-Home Support Services (IHSS) to low income disabled recipients. Following passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Reauthorization Act (“welfare reform”), immigrant seniors, unlike their U.S. citizen counterparts, no longer qualify for SSI benefits solely based upon their age. Now, immigrant seniors—many who have worked for years in low-paying positions in the restaurant, garment, or other sweatshop industries—must prove that they suffer from a permanent disability that bars them from engaging in any gainful activity in the national economy regardless of their advanced age. Along with our partners on the local and state levels, API continued to fight to protect our elders.