Clinic Spotlight: Senior Citizens Law Clinic
The Senior Citizens Law Clinic (SCLC) at Touro Law Center welcomes Paul H. Senzer, Esq., as program Fellow. Mr. Senzer has had a long career serving clients on Long Island and is very interested in senior citizens issues.
The SCLC is a federally-funded program created under Title III-B of the Older Americans Act. The program provides legal services at no cost to seniors, age 60+, living in Suffolk County. The program is conducted as a clinic and each semester, 6 to 8 students participate. These students have an opportunity to speak to potential clients, meet with them to ascertain their potential legal issues, and work on correspondence, applications, notices, and other legal research/documents. This hands-on training is invaluable.
The clinic focuses its work in assisting needy and low-income clients. Those who are in the greatest economic and social need are clients who reside in nursing homes, adult homes or assisted living, clients who are chronically ill or who have difficulty accessing health care, clients who are homeless or threatened with homelessness, clients who live on subsistence income or are threatened with the loss of subsistence income, those living at or below the federal poverty level, aging lesbian, gay or transgender residents, those who have language barriers that limit their access to legal redress or whose language barriers have made them prone to victimization and those who are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation, including fraudulent and deceptive consumer and financial practices. The program’s priorities will be maintaining housing and preventing homelessness, public benefits, and income matters, including cash and food assistance, SSI and Social Security benefits, Medicare, Medicaid, home health care, HEAP, Section 8 housing, the rights of patients in nursing homes, prevention or redress of abuse and exploitation, health care decision-making and access to health care issues.
The program is run by Senior Staff Attorney, Denise Marzano-Doty, Staff Attorney, AveMaria Thompson, Paul Senzer, Esq, currently in a fellowship, and Paralegal/Gerontologist, Judith Lespinasse. The clinic serves in excess of 1,000 senior citizens each year through direct representation as well as providing information and assistance on a variety of topics.
Since the pandemic, the clinic has seen an even greater need for legal services for older Americans. Illness (both physical and mental), loss of income, lack of social support from family or friends, lack of transportation, and isolation have affected many senior citizens in Suffolk County. They do not know where to turn for assistance and often feel threatened or intimidated, especially in court proceedings.
The clinic has had some notable achievements this year. Ms. Lespinasse worked diligently with a client who had not cashed her Social Security checks in many years because of a misunderstanding. Ms. Lespinasse met with the client, researched the matter, reached out to the SSA for a conference, and was able to resolve the issue. The client is receiving replacement checks in excess of $100,000 which will make her daily life much easier.
Collectively, the clinic attorneys and law students have assisted many clients who were at risk of eviction. By appearing with them in court, the clinic attorneys were able to negotiate settlements to give them time to locate new housing, prevent a monetary judgment, and, in some cases, to retain their tenancy.
The clinic has also assisted many clients in obtaining Community Medicaid benefits which have allowed them to obtain home health care that is greatly needed. Other positive outcomes include settling with a contractor who did not complete work on a senior’s home and walked away mid-job. This senior is receiving a settlement of $12,000.