Making the Older Americans Act Work for Us

It’s not as well-known as Medicare and Social Security, but the Older Americans Act (OAA) is nearly as important to older adults in the U.S.

The OAA – which will be reauthorized by Congress this year, which means now is the time that changes and improvements can be made – organizes and funds many of the public programs that support older adults.  Meals programs, senior centers, long-term care ombudsmen, caregiver support, employment programs, health promotion programs, in-home care, and much, much more come under the OAA umbrella.  Structurally, the OAA funds the U.S. Administration on Aging, which funds the State Units on Aging, which fund the local Area Agencies on Aging, which provide or contract for the wide array of community-based services older adults use.

This year the Members of Congress who will be reauthorizing the OAA will see the most concerted campaign ever to acknowledge the existence of and begin meeting the particular needs of LGBT older adults.  For the first time, the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, the 65-member association comprising the country’s leading aging organizations, has come out with a “Consensus Recommendations for the 2011 Older Americans Act Reauthorization” that includes eight explicit recommendations for changing the OAA to address LGBT concerns.  They include:

  • Where possible, LGBT older adults should be included as a vulnerable population with greatest social need as a result of a lifetime of bigotry, stigma and discrimination.
  • The definitions of “minority” status and “greatest social need” should explicitly name racial minority groups and LGBT older adults.
  • The definitions of “greatest social need” should explicitly name older adults living with HIV.
  • 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 all racial and ethnic communities, and LGBT communities, which include partners and families of choice, as well as spouses and biological families.
  • Data collection, project assessments and reporting requirements should ensure that racial groups, as well as LGBT older adults, are studied and appropriately served.
  • The OAA should promote cultural and linguistic competence for all racial and ethnic groups and for LGBT older adults.
  • Aging resource centers funded by OAA should explicitly address all racial and ethnic groups and LGBT older adults.
  • Where other minority resource centers are enumerated, the OAA should add (and thereby make permanent) the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

In a related development, SAGE has issued a new policy brief, “LGBT Older Adults and Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act.”  This document includes SAGE’s versions of the above recommendations, but adds in the valuable content of stories of LGBT older adults, pictures from SAGE’s first-ever national advocacy conference led by, for and about LGBT older adults, and some explanations of the OAA.

Both of these are resources advocates can use to write their own Members of Congress, urging them to finally ensure that our nation’s aging programs recognize and meet the unique needs of LGBT older adults.

The Leadership Council of Aging Organizations’ 2011 Older Americans Act Consensus Statement is at http://www.lcao.org/docs/consensus_document_oaa.pdf

SAGE’s LGBT Older Adults and Reauthorization of the Older Americans Act Policy Brief is at http://sageusa.org/uploads/SagePB_AmericanAct_web.pdf

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