By SHANNAN O’NEIL
Capital News Service
LANSING- Grandma and grandpa will have additional financial protection against exploitation if the House passes current legislation.
Approximately 157,000 cases of abuse and exploitation of vulnerable adults have been reported to the Michigan Department of Human Services in the past 10 years. Of those, 95,000 have been or will be fully investigated, said Dave Akerly, director of public relations and marketing in the Department.
About 20 bills are pending in the state legislature to better protect vulnerable adults. Sen. Coleman Young II, D-Detroit, introduced one to amend the Social Welfare Act to include exploitation in the definition of abuse of vulnerable adults.
Vulnerable adults are defined in the bill as those who cannot protect themselves from abuse, neglect or exploitation because of a mental or physical impairment or because of advanced age.
Exploitation involves the misuse of an adult’s funds, property or personal dignity. Examples include someone taking control of their property, physical assets or money.
“I think that a nation, a state, is just based on how we treat our senior citizens,” Young said.
Many vulnerable adults are retired, living off of saved money.
“For them to be in their retirement and for them to be exploited and taken advantage of, is not only wrong but it’s despicable,” Young said.
Young’s bill would require any person who provides financial services in Michigan such as banks, loan associations and credit unions, to be trained to recognize and report fraud. Banks already go through the training, so there wouldn’t be a need for much more additional training, said Gail Madziar, vice president of membership and communications at the Michigan Bankers Association.
Under federal law, frontline personnel, the people that deal directly with customers, as well as any staff that may work with the public, must be trained to identify fraud. This bill unifies state and federal law to make sure the training gets done.
“The problem is the abuse of vulnerable adults, financial abuse can happen any time in any location– not just at the bank,” Madziar said. “It’s important that people are aware that the bank is looking out for their best interest.”
The bill calls upon the Office of Financial and Insurance Regulation to help financial institutions train their employees to catch fraud. The office supports the bill, and is working with their institutions to keep up-to-date with new ways to catch fraud. Costs for the office would be minimal.
Education is key to eliminating fraud, said Jason Moon, public information officer at the agency.
The bill requires professionals or anyone that sees fraud to report it. To protect the reporter, they are granted civil immunity. So if their claim turns out wrong, they can’t be penalized.
The bill would require the Department of Human Resources to investigate each report. Now, they only have to look into it to see if it has merit for investigation.
Senior citizens are an important aspect of our culture– they paved the path to allow following generations to accomplish their goals, Young said.
“I wanted to make it clear that in this state we will not tolerate criminals, we will not tolerate savages exploiting our senior citizens, financially or otherwise,” Young said.
Depending on the severity of the abuse, different bills can punish offenders from five to 20 years in prison.
Young has not encountered anyone who disagrees with his bill. It is through the House and pending before the Senate. It shows how important this legislation is and how important our senior citizens are, he said. The bill makes everyone responsible for reporting abuse.
“You can go out there and do bad if you want to, but we are going to catch you and take you down, period,” Young said.
© 2011, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Nonmembers cannot reproduce CNS articles without written permission.
By SHANNAN O’NEIL