National Association of Legal Services Developers (NALSD)

For Immediate Release

October 30, 2000

"What Didn't Kill Us May Make Us Stronger"
Statement by NALSD Chair, Natalie Thomas

The National Association of Legal Services Developers (NALSD) applauds the efforts of the Aging Network and the staff of both the Senate and House Committees for the hard work done to make the Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act a good first step for older Americans for the 21st Century. This piece of legislation had a most difficult time making it through the process and getting to the top of what must be many piles of other important legislation trying to see the light of day.

NALSD found while in Washington, DC October 4-7 for the National Aging & Law Conference that efforts were still being made to kill off the State Legal Assistance Development Program. The small but committed organization found itself not only in the common position of being a target for elimination but finally in the rare position of being in the right place at the right time to face and address the "targeters" and the supporters. Chair, Natalie Thomas (GA) and Chair-Elect Deanna Clingan-Fischer (IA), assisted by Lynne Berry, Legal Services Developer from North Carolina, side by side with Penny Hommel and Jim Bergman, Co-Directors of The Center for Social Gerontology, strategically went door to door on Capitol Hill. The group educated legislators and staff about the Developers and straightened out long held misconceptions that the program is not essential to the ability of states to protect the rights of the vulnerable elderly and provide well developed and much needed priority Title III-B legal assistance programs.

Through education and determination, not only does the State Legal Assistance Development Program remain in the Older Americans Act, it remains where it belongs in Title VII with sister programs, the State Long Term Care Ombudsman and Elder Abuse Prevention Programs, as part of a system built to protect the rights of the vulnerable elderly. The streamlined language, while not suggested by NALSD, actually redirects the focus of the responsibilities of the Legal Services Developers instead of merely enumerating finite tasks. Unequivocally, each state is required to have a State Legal Assistance Developer and the services of other personnel in order to ensure the state's leadership and capacity to meet the OAA requirements for protecting the rights of the vulnerable elderly. So sure is Congress about the utility and importance of the State Legal Assistance Development Program, that only to this program is the responsibility given to provide to the aging network, other appropriate persons and older persons, support, technical assistance, training, assistance in understanding rights, exercising choices, benefiting from services and opportunities authorized by law and maintaining the rights of certain vulnerable older individuals. This in addition to the responsibility of improving the quality and quantity of legal services provided to older individuals provides a broader base of responsibility for Developers from which NALSD will work tirelessly to ensure that all vulnerable older persons benefit.

What an awesome responsibility, but NALSD gladly welcomes the challenge.