Last week, I had the good fortune to spend two full days in Memphis, Tennessee, with my friend and colleague, Holly Petraeus, who heads the CFPB’s Office of Servicemember Affairs.
I was in Memphis because of a great organization called RISE, whose name stands for embracing responsibility, initiative, solutions and empowerment. It is one of five national recipients of a special grant from the National Community Reinvestment Coalition’s National Neighbors Silver Campaign, a campaign dedicated to safeguarding the financial security of today’s seniors and future retirees. Holly and I spoke at their annual luncheon, where I learned about the good work RISE does to empower lower-income families and teach them financial planning skills. RISE’s efforts have helped 470 people grow their wealth by nearly $6 million since 1999.
I also spoke at a roundtable sponsored by the Aging Commission of the Mid-South/Memphis Area Administration on Aging. Over 30 professionals participated in the roundtable and related to me some of the critical issues facing seniors in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi. I heard about efforts to prevent frauds targeting older Tennesseans, monthly meetings of interdisciplinary working groups on financial abuse of seniors, and the difficulties that seniors face as a result of insufficient legal services for the elderly. I also learned about a hotline called “SeniorsBSafe,” which allows people to anonymously report financial and other elder abuse to the authorities.
On my second day in Memphis, I had breakfast with Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr., Shelby County Mayor Mark H. Luttrell, Jr., and Shelby County District Attorney Amy Weirich. We talked about the financial issues facing seniors in Memphis and, more broadly, in Tennessee, where a high number of payday and predatory lenders continue to take advantage of older Americans.
After breakfast, I enjoyed my favorite part of the day: listening to seniors at the Memphis Inter-Faith Association (MIFA), which has been operating in downtown Memphis since 1968 and delivers more than 1,200 meals a day to residents. At MIFA, I heard from nearly 40 “senior companions” – seniors who work part-time taking care of other seniors – who shared stories about the financial hardships, abuse, and exploitation from which they (and the seniors they care for) have suffered. I particularly remember a woman I met named Mary, who explained how careful she needed to be with her money. Mary made it clear that, although she loves her children and family members, she cannot trust them all with money matters. Amy Weirich and I urged everyone at MIFA to report what they see and hear in order to help bring elder financial exploitation into the open. Weirich, whose office has an elder abuse unit, made a commitment to better train senior companions on how to spot and successfully report elder financial abuse.
I ended my trip to Memphis by visiting Meritan, a regional non-profit agency based in Memphis. There, I listened to older American veterans tell me about their experiences with payday lenders and frauds aimed at veterans. We discussed the Aid and Attendance scam, in which fraudsters rip off veterans by putting their assets in “trusts” that cannot be accessed and also jeopardize their ability to qualify for Medicare and Medicaid. We also talked about the “Buy your Pension” scam, in which swindlers take a veteran’s pension, put the money out of reach, and invest in poor financial products on their behalf. On a brighter note, I also learned how senior veterans and others benefited from the job placement, financial counseling, and other tremendous community support offered by Meritan.
As they say at MIFA, there is something GOOD in Memphis!