For over 30 years, Bruce has tirelessly helped elderly and disabled Texans overcome legal problems, fought for policies protecting low-income individuals, and mentored the next generation of legal aid attorneys.
During the Texas Access to Justice Commission’s Champions of Justice Gala in April 2022, Texas Legal Services Center’s Bruce Bower was presented with the Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award. The award recognizes an outstanding individual whose extraordinary spirit and demonstrated commitment to legal aid has improved society and inspired others.
Bruce has devoted more than 33 years of service to TLSC and Texans in need, while humbly mentoring the next generation of legal aid attorneys and advocates. Now in semi-retirement, Bruce shares his wealth of knowledge in his role as TLSC’s Director of Training.
Bruce joined Texas Legal Services Center in 1989 and launched the Legal Hotline for Older Texans — still a thriving TLSC program, helping tens of thousands of seniors and Medicare Beneficiaries since its inception. Bruce was the driving force behind a legal aid partnership with the Texas Health Information, Counseling, and Advocacy Program (HICAP) —the State Health Insurance Assistance Program for Texas. HICAP is a partnership between Texas Health and Human Services, TLSC, and the Area Agencies on Aging. The partnership trains and oversees certified Medicare Benefits Counselors across the state.
Through his work on the Legal Hotline for Texans, Bruce saw clients suffering from nursing home abuse, neglect, exploitation, violent and non-violent crimes, and fraud. His research into the connection between elder law, public benefits, and crime victims’ civil legal services resulted in the Facilities Victims Project which ran from 2005 to 2013.
Knowing Texas’ adoption of Medicaid Estate Recovery would adversely impact low-income families, Bruce created the Qualified Income Trust (QIT) Project. The project ensured that low-income clients who made too much money to qualify for long-term residential care under Medicaid, but too little to afford it on their own, could receive proper care in their final years.
In addition to his work on programs and projects, Bruce has advocated for numerous policies that protect and serve low-income Texans:
Section 531.019, Texas Government Code. In the mid-2000s, Texas was the only state that did not permit judicial review of Medicaid Fair Hearings. Bruce’s advocacy resulted in Texas Government Code Section 531.019, which permits state court judicial review of final administrative decisions regarding Supplemental Nutrition Assistance, Medicaid, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Section 81.1011, Texas Government Code. Bruce advocated for the passage of Texas Government Code Section 81.1011 to allow specially trained and certified Benefits Counselors to prepare advance directives for seniors and people with disabilities.
Chapter 34, Texas Family Code. He was instrumental in creating the Non-Parent Authorization Agreement that allows grandparents and relatives who are raising children that were not born to them to care for and make decisions for the child. This work resulted in a new chapter (34) of the Texas Family Code.
Chapter 114, Texas Estate Code. Seeing a need to help low-income families unable to afford expensive probate proceedings, Bruce worked with others to see the passage of Chapter 114 of the Texas Estate Code, creating the Transfer on Death Deed (TODD).
Bruce has helped thousands of Texans with disabilities and the ARC of Texas through his efforts to create the Master Pooled Trust — a special needs trust that provides financial security to all people with disabilities. The trust allows people with disabilities to use funds obtained from personal injury settlements, SSI back payments, or inheritances while not jeopardizing their government benefits, like SSI or Medicaid.
Bruce has devoted his life to steadfastly advocating for the most vulnerable. He is known throughout the legal aid community for his infinite wisdom and humble nature, quietly working behind the scenes, and more often than not, crediting others for what he has done. Bruce’s legacy not only includes impactful policy and legislative changes, but the development of hundreds of lawyers and advocates who can call him their mentor.
Learn more about the Emily C. Jones Lifetime Achievement Award and other 2022 Texas Access to Justice Commission Awardees.