Older Americans Act may address LGBT needs
Forty-seven years ago, when President Lyndon Johnson first signed the Older Americans Act (OAA) into law, it mandated a full range of efficient, well-coordinated and accessible services for older Americans. The services were designed to help Americans age successfully, with modern health services and financial security, while giving them the resources to be able to stay in their own homes.
When he signed the legislation, President Johnson said, “No longer will older Americans be denied the healing miracle of modern medicine. No longer will illness crush and destroy the savings that they have so carefully put away over a lifetime so that they might enjoy dignity in their later years.”
Congress has been responsible for reauthorizing the OAA approximately every five years, making sure that the law stays relevant as the needs of older Americans have changed.
The Act is once again due for reauthorization, with a committee vote expected in the Senate in June. If approved as proposed, the OAA would, for the first time, specifically recognize the needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) older Americans.
Over the course of the last five decades, Congress has recognized the special needs and issues of cerain groups, including older Americans who live in rural areas; who are members of low-income minority populations; who have severe disabilities; who have limited English speaking ability; and older individuals with Alzheimer's disease or related disorders and their caretakers.
Since 1965, the OAA has also added focus on the nutritional, housing, employment and legal needs of older Americans.
Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Primary Health and Aging, has introduced the legislation
which would result in increased outreach efforts to help assure that LGBT older Americans have equal access to the aging services already available through the Older Americans Act.
The bill also directs government agencies to reach out to older Americans who suffer abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, face cultural, social, or geographic isolation, as well as those living with HIV.
Because they have faced lifetimes of legally-sanctioned discrimination in education, employment and housing, LGBT older Americans are less financially secure than older Americans in general. LGBT people are not allowed to share equally in Social Security, Veterans, or employer-provided medical benefits. LGBT Americans are often taxed at higher rates than their married counterparts on medical benefits and inheritance, further weakening their financial stability.
The proposed changes to the Older Americans Act will not change all of these inequities. What it will do is give those Americans who have traditionally been underserved an opportunity for equal access to the aging services that all other older Americans enjoy. Ed Bomba is a member of the LGBT Elder Initiative, a coalition of Aging and LGBT service organizations and consumers, that supports Senator Sander’s bill to reauthorize the Older American Act.