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​Guidance for Delivering Legal Assistance During the COVID-19 Emergency

In response to Governor Tom Wolf’s proclamation of disaster emergency issued on March 6, 2020 and consequential orders, the Department of Aging issues the following Guidance for Area Agencies on Aging (AAAs) and their Older Americans Act Title IIIB-funded legal providers regarding providing legal assistance during the disaster emergency period. See Administration on Community Living (ACL) COVID-19 Response - Legal Assistance for Older Americans.

AAAs and their Title IIIB-funded legal assistance providers must take steps to ensure that older adults (age 60 and over) are aware of how they may access legal assistance during the COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration period. Limited legal services should be available for Pennsylvania’s older adults that may have a priority legal issue during this time.

To ensure legal assistance is provided to Pennsylvania’s older adults during the disaster emergency declaration period, Title IIIB legal assistance providers should:

Establish Priorities for Legal Services

Title IIIB legal assistance provider offices may be physically closed and their services limited during the emergency period; however, legal issues that involve immediate or irreparable harm to an older adult’s health or safety should be prioritized and handled during the emergency period.

Such priority issues may include:
  • Termination of benefits or essential services, particularly those related to health care services, nutrition and utilities
  • Eviction or ejection from home or nursing facilities, assisted living facilities, and similar residential settings
  • Elder abuse or neglect issues with a risk of or actual imminent danger and need for immediate intervention
  • Cases with upcoming court appearances that cannot be continued without risk of jeopardy to the client

Leverage Technology & Existing Models of Remote Service Delivery Service

Technology will play an important role in continuing to serve older adult clients in the COVID-19 disaster emergency declaration. Some technology options for legal assistance providers to consider include:
  • Video-based conferencing for intake and client communication
  • Utilizing online intake

The SeniorLAW Helpline is an existing model for remote access to legal services. This helpline is a free and confidential telephone service, generally staffed by attorneys, providing legal information, advice and referrals to senior citizens throughout Pennsylvania. All staff are currently working remotely. Telephone service delivery may be the best form of remote service to provide to older adults who may not have internet access in their homes.

Information about the SeniorLAW Helpline can be provided on the AAAs’ websites, via email databases and/or by communicating with other partners to ensure that older adults are made aware of the SeniorLAW Helpline as an option for access to legal services, especially during this emergency declaration period. Older adults may contact Pennsylvania’s SeniorLAW Helpline at 1-877-PA SR LAW (or 1-877-727-7529) statewide.

Communicate with Older Adults

Legal assistance providers must communicate their changes in service delivery and the availability of legal services for older adults. It is important that older adults are aware they can access legal assistance without going to an office. AAAs and their Title IIIB legal assistance providers should consider using the following methods of communications to reach older adults:
  • Social media
  • Local media announcements and articles
  • Message prominently on your website homepage
  • Email to community partners

Stay Updated on Court Access

Legal assistance providers should stay updated on Pennsylvania court procedures and policies, as they are changing frequently. By order of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, all Pennsylvania Courts are generally closed to the public, beginning at the close of business March 19, 2020, and lasting through at least April 30, 2020. Legal assistance providers can check for any court changes at