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Buffalo nonprofit offering older adults free legal advice about coronavirus

Center for Elder Law and Justice

Older adults are considered at greater risk to suffer serious complications from the new coronavirus. Now a Buffalo nonprofit legal agency is offering them free advice on topics like health insurance and paid leave.

The Center for Elder Law and Justice (CELJ) has announced it’s now taking COVID-19-related legal questions on its free helpline. CELJ attorneys are trying to stay up to date on the latest developments to answer older adults’ inquiries by phone, according to attorney Erin Riker, who manages the helpline.

“We're trying to get the word out to seniors to call because they may think about coronavirus and they may not realize that there are legal issues attached,” she said.


The new coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes, COVID-19, is considered a pandemic by the World Health Organization with about 170,000 confirmed cases worldwide. President Donald Trump declared a national emergency Friday with many schools, restaurants and other businesses shutting down over the weekend and Monday.


The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns that older adults, those 60 and older, are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, while nursing homes across the country have closed their doors to visitors to slow the spread. 


CELJ’s free senior helpline for older adults was created in 2017, mostly taking questions on things like stolen funds or tenant rights, but attorneys decided to include coronavirus help last week as the outbreak worsened in the U.S.


“We can structure the helpline to be pretty dynamic,” Riker said. “With coronavirus, we've been following not only existing laws that would be helpful to people, like the process for unemployment insurance, but also the latest state of emergency declarations.”


One of the biggest questions for older adults will likely be how to get tested for the coronavirus and how to pay for testing. Medicare and Medicaid is covering the costs of testing, while Gov. Andrew Cuomo has directed health insurance companies in New York state to do the same. 


“Unfortunately, if people are on fixed income, they might be worried about the cost of getting tested,” Riker said. “And we want to make sure people know that cost should not be a barrier because these regulations have gone into place.”


Riker also expects older adults to have concerns about their care should they get the virus. She noted their spouse, child or grandchild may be able to stay home and look after them while still getting paid. New York’s Paid Family Leave Program allows up to 10 weeks of paid leave, covering 60% of the person’s average weekly wage but no more than 60% of the state average weekly wage.


Congress’s emergency coronavirus bill, awaiting a vote from the Senate, would give workers up to three months of paid family, paying no less than two-thirds of their usual pay.


Riker also noted many older adults are still working themselves. About 20 percent of adults over age 65 are either working or looking for work, according to a report last by money manager United Income.

Congress’s bill would grant two weeks of paid sick leave, covering 100 percent of the person’s normal wage but with a cap of $511 per day.


“A lot of them still have jobs that they go to either full- or part-time and if their business closes and they close without being paid, or if they have to take a few weeks off, they may qualify for unemployment insurance,” Riker added. 


The helpline is open from 9 to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. The number to call is 1-844-481-0973.

Due to the escalating outbreak, Riker noted CELJ attorneys will now answer questions from callers of any age.


“We want to make sure that we can give people that information to give them a little more peace of mind,” she said.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.