The purpose of the OAA is to help older adults stay healthy and independent. “It is the safety net for the most vulnerable people who need aging services,” said Stephen Gamble, deputy director of the Delaware County Office of Services for the Aging. Programs supported through the OAA include senior centers, home-delivered and group meal programs, in-home support services, transportation, caregiver support and many other services for seniors. For LGBT people who are caring for their parents or friends, “it is important to be aware of the services that are available,” Gamble said. “For example, information and referral services are provided free of charge through area agencies on aging because of the act. These services help people know where to turn and what to do.” The OAA also funds resource centers that address a variety of needs including elder justice, legal services and financial literacy.
However, the Older Americans Act does not currently address the specific and unique needs of LGBT older Americans. This could start to change with the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act this year.
Congress is now working on the reauthorization of the OAA, a process that occurs every five years. Legislators are considering language that would address the unique needs of LGBT older adults. If passed, the act would make changes to ensure that LGBT seniors are able to access the resources and services they need to age successfully.
Bob Behney, information supervisor for the Bucks County Area Agency on Aging, said: “The fact that Congress may acknowledge LGBT people in the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act is a step in the right direction. It would help create awareness and bring attention to the unique needs of LGBT elders.”
In addition to supporting the LGBT-friendly bill proposed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the LGBT Elder Initiative also supports recommendations made by the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, a coalition of non-profit organizations serving older Americans. A summary of those recommendations follows.
LGBT older adults and racial minority groups should be:
— included as “vulnerable populations with greatest social need” as a result of a lifetime of bigotry, stigma and discrimination;
— named in definitions of “minority” status and “greatest social need” in the OAA;
— the focus of data collection, project assessments and reporting requirements in order to ensure that they are studied and appropriately served; and
— addressed in the OAA in ways that account for their unique family structures and collective experiences. Terms such as “adult care,” “family,” “family caregiver,” “spouse,” “underserved area,” “vulnerable elder” and “family violence” should be defined to account for the variety of family and care structures of LGBT communities and all racial and ethnic communities. This includes partners and families of choice, as well as spouses and biological families.
Additionally, the LCAO and the LGBTEI recommend that the Older Americans Act should:
— name older adults living with HIV in the definitions of “greatest social need” — recognizing the growing number of older adults living with HIV and the related health disparities, discrimination and stigma;
— include provisions that promote cultural and linguistic sensitivity for LGBT older adults and all racial and ethnic groups;
— specify that aging resource centers address LGBT older adults as well as all racial and ethnic groups;
— include and list the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.
To help ensure that these important changes are included in the Older Americans Act, you can contact your senators and representatives and urge them to support Sanders’ reauthorization of the Older Americans Act. Tell them to include specific language addressing the needs of LGBT older adults. You can call your legislators toll-free at 1-866-220-0044 or contact them online at www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml.
Alicia Sellon, a volunteer with the LGBT Elder Initiative, is receiving a master of social work degree from the University of Pennsylvania. The LGBTEI is dedicated to supporting and sustaining the lives of LGBT older adults. To mark Older Americans Month, PGN will feature two “Gettin’ On” columns this month. To comment on this column, suggest topics for future columns or for more information, visit www.lgbtei.org
and watch for “Gettin’ On” each month in PGN.