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Cuomo's new partnership looks to help vulnerable NYers

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 9/21/2012, 12:40 p.m.

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced a new partnership with the goal of improving legal services for the city's most vulnerable residents, senior citizens and the disabled.

The partnership between the State Office for the Aging, the State Office of Court Administration and the New York State Bar Association will identify the legal needs and barriers that seniors and disabled New Yorkers experience, and develop a plan to more put existing resources to better use. Some of that will include attorney pro bono programs in areas of the state that need it the most.

The state believes that older and disabled New Yorkers being able to afford legal services is an important component to helping them live in their homes and "communities of choice."

Cuomo was pleased with the new partnership and its future.

"Access to affordable legal services is of utmost importance, particularly for senior citizens and residents with disabilities," said Cuomo in a released statement. "This partnership builds on efforts the state has already taken to ensure that New Yorkers with disabilities are treated fairly and have proper access to the same avenues of justice that are available to others."

Seymour W. James Jr., president of the New York State Bar Association, shared similar sentiments.

"The ability to access legal advice can make an enormous difference in the well-being of older adults and individuals with disabilities," said James. "Our members help address these needs by volunteering countless hours of pro bono services each year. The New York State Bar Association is pleased to join efforts to determine how best to meet the legal needs of these vulnerable populations."

The partnership will assess legal needs and identify legal assistance programs and resources in order to determine the adequacy of existing programs in the state. The goal is to develop the inventory necessary to create a proper gap analysis involving access to justice.

"The New York State Office for the Aging administers a Legal Assistance Program for older adults who, due to economic or social need, would not likely be able to obtain the assistance of an attorney, impeding access to justice," said Greg Olsen, acting director of the Office for the Aging. "These citizens have a right to receive the help they need in seeking justice related to issues around housing, health and long-term care, financial exploitation, physical and mental abuse, guardianship, employment, discrimination, caregiving and many more."

The state said that the partnership should result in a "variety" of educational tools and programs that would include community forums to raise awareness about legal issues the elderly and disabled face, a preparedness self-assessment tool for elders, figuring out how to increase the availability of low-cost legal services and an interactive website.