Women’s Fund Grant Focus
BY SHERRY THOMPSON
An increasing number of elderly women in the Omaha area are facing financial challenges that affect their quality of life. Some have charged living expenses to credit cards, creating debt they cannot pay. Others fall victim to fraudulent scams, or are vulnerable to collection agency harassment or marketing calls for items they don’t need and cannot afford.
Legal Aid of Nebraska launched its Financial Stability for Elderly Women in Omaha project after identifying a need to focus on financial issues affecting older women. “We found hundreds of women just in the Omaha area who had these types of needs and didn’t know to contact Legal Aid,” says Annette Farnan, interim executive director. Last fall, Legal Aid received a $5,000 Women’s Fund grant to help fund this project. To date, 381 women over the age of 59 have contacted the ElderAccessLine®, and 127 received legal representation on consumer issues, including debt collection and bankruptcies. The other 254 women had legal issues involving power of attorneys, wills, estates and housing.
“Our work on this project confirmed what we believed: Poor elderly women need access to free legal advice,” Farnan says. “Without this resource, this population is more at risk, and their well-being is in peril if their income is in jeopardy,” she adds. “There is a domino effect that happens when someone on a fixed income is forced to choose which bill to pay. Many times they will pay a lower priority debt with the consequence of jeopardizing their housing, ability to purchase food or obtain other basic life necessities.”
The typical client is a woman in her mid-60s or early 70s who is having trouble making ends meet. Average income for clients in the program was $17,530.95. “Generally, these folks have reached a point where they only have the ability to pay for their necessities,” says Margaret Schaefer, ElderAccessLine® attorney. “They are not irresponsible, and they didn’t get into debt by doing something wrong.”
Legal Aid is able to help these women make good financial choices, such as prioritizing debt payments.
Rose, 82, benefited from such legal advice when faced with a $1,300 outstanding judgment and the need for major repairs to her home. Habitat for Humanity was willing to make the necessary repairs at no cost, but Rose first had to resolve the outstanding judgment. Her only source of income was $764 a month in Social Security Disability.
A Legal Aid attorney set out to find a solution for Rose, counseling her to prioritize her monthly bills and to take care of the necessities of life first. She also looked for other options for the work on her home and found Rebuilding Together, which provides free home repairs for the elderly and disabled. The repairs have been made, and Rose’s home is secure again.
Helping Rose overcome her financial issues positively impacted her health and safety, Farnan says. “There is a lot of internal passion to do this work.”
Seniors over the age of 60 can receive free legal assistance by contacting the ElderAccessLine® at (800) 527-7249 or online at www.legalaidofnebraska.com. See a complete list of 2013 Women’s Fund grants at www.omahawomensfund.org.
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