ELLSWORTH, Maine — Seniors in Down East Maine will have more access to free legal assistance thanks to a $76,000 grant from the Maine Bar Foundation.
The grant was awarded to Maine Legal Services for the Elderly, and will fund a full-time attorney to serve low-income seniors in Washington and Hancock counties, according to a new release.
Because many seniors are less mobile than their younger counterparts, the attorney will hold office hours and drop-in visits in locations throughout the two counties, according to Jaye Martin, executive director for Maine LSE.
The attorney will hold office hours each week at Washington-Hancock Community Agency in Machias as well as drop-in hours at the WHCA and at Eastern Area Agency on Aging sites where seniors congregate.
In an interview Wednesday, Martin said the two Down East counties are among the poorest and oldest in the state. Most of the seniors’ legal needs there are associated with their tenuous economic situations, she said.
The attorney will focus on “tipping-point events,” she said, such as a household member dying, losing a job or being exploited by a scammer, neighbor or family member. These events can lead to a need for legal advice on consumer debt, public benefits or foreclosures, Martin said.
“The thing that’s unique about seniors facing these situations is they’re often on fixed incomes, so the ability to rebound is just different,” she said. “Often the things that have made the house stable for decades [such as the income of two wage-earners] is the thing that’s changed.”
The grant is funded by the Maine Bar Foundation’s ESO Fund, created by an anonymous donor in 2011 and administered by the Foundation. M. Calien Lewis, executive director for the foundation, said her organization is pleased to offer aid to promote legal services in one of the most under-served areas of the state.
“Lawyers get a bad rap in some places, but having a lawyer to advocate for you when you need one can make the difference in losing your home or accessing benefits you’re entitled to,” she said.
Maine LSE said the group hopes to hire a lawyer to fill the job by March 1. Martin said that while the grant funds the program for only one year, she’s optimistic the position will be more permanent.
“These situations can often result in ruin for seniors, and often the solution is not that difficult,” she said.
Follow Mario Moretto on Twitter at @riocarmine.