Issue:  Vol. 47 / No. 12 / 23 March 2017

Don't erase LGBT seniors


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President Donald Trump appointed numerous anti-LGBT Cabinet secretaries and we are starting to see how some of them are wielding their influence to erase LGBTs. It was reported this week that the Department of Health and Human Services, overseen by anti-gay Secretary Tom Price, quietly removed questions on sexuality from two federal surveys.

According to Services and Advocacy of LGBT Elders, or SAGE, the draft of the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants omitted questions that allow the federal government to assess the extent to which LGBT older adults are receiving federally funded elder services. SAGE said this was the only change the Trump administration proposed to the survey.

The Associated Press reported this week that a second HHS-sponsored survey, the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living, also deleted a question on sexual orientation. The survey gathers feedback on counseling, skills training, and other services provided to the disabled. "A revised draft posted four days after President Donald Trump's inauguration included a question on sexual orientation, but the survey was subsequently edited, with the deletion of the sexuality question the only apparent notable change," AP reported.

These are deeply disturbing developments at a time when such questions are becoming standard practice in jurisdictions around the country. In 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that requires a number of state agencies to collect LGBT demographic data. And San Francisco passed a similar ordinance that gives the city until July 1 to collect similar data.

SAGE pointed out that the survey information is used to evaluate the effectiveness of programs funded under Title III of the Older Americans Act, including who is being served by such programs. Since Trump wants to decimate spending, and has complained about "waste" in various social programs, one would think he'd see the value of such data to assess their efficiency. Apparently not.

The LGBT community has fought for years to be included in such surveys, as well as the census, and some progress was made. Notably, the census still omits data on LGBT people, unless they're in a same-sex marriage, and community groups have been pushing the government to change that. Now, however, it appears federal officials are not receptive, and in the process, are actively rendering LGBT older Americans invisible.

"Now, it appears that the Trump administration wants to make believe LGBT older people don't exist, by erasing them from this critically important survey," SAGE CEO Michael Adams said in a statement.

We join SAGE in insisting that the administration reverse this course. LGBT people have been in this country since its founding, and continue to be a vital part of society. Trump himself has said how proud he was that attendees at last year's GOP convention applauded when he mentioned support for LGBTs. The White House wrote last month, "President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights."

This isn't the first anti-LGBT policy change. It's clear that the administration will roll back our progress, and will do so quietly, as in this case, or spin a competing narrative, as it did when Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was reported to have expressed concern for trans students before rescinding Title IX protections for them. Don't buy it. Deleting LGBT-specific questions from surveys about federal programs is neither respectful nor supportive. Trump should direct Price's agency to restore the questions to the surveys.


Meals on Wheels

Meanwhile, Trump's budget blueprint has proposed draconian cuts to non-defense discretionary spending, which includes the program that funds Meals on Wheels in many parts of the country. While it does not exclusively serve LGBTs, Meals on Wheels is a lifeline for those who depend on the meal delivery program, gay and straight alike. Thankfully, Meals on Wheels of San Francisco does not receive Community Development Block Grant funding, which Trump has proposed to cut, but the agency's CEO Ashley McCumber, a gay man, said that he's bracing for other budget cuts. And if the Department of Health and Human Services guts funding for the Older Americans Act, the most vulnerable among us will suffer, and it will have a devastating effect on our local Meals on Wheels, McCumber told us in a phone call last week.

As McCumber pointed out, "a meal is just a starter" to check on the well-being of seniors. Meal delivery also serves as a way to reduce isolation for those who are homebound, he noted. It also keeps people housed and healthy, which is less expensive than institutionalization.

Trump's budget director, Mick Mulvaney, defended the block grant cuts, saying – without any evidence – that the program was "just not showing any results." However, numerous news stories over the past week, and interviews with people who run meal programs, contradicted that statement. Reporting in the New York Times, Aaron E. Carroll wrote that Meals on Wheels has been the subject of many peer-reviewed studies; and while these are not as robust as randomized controlled trials, they show that the program does, in fact, get results. "A 2016 study showed that participants in the Meals on Wheels program had lower loneliness scores," he wrote. "A 2013 study showed that spending on services like Meals on Wheels was associated with less reliance on institutionalized care, because more people could live independently."

Meals on Wheels is worthy of government funding because it's effective. And to those like Mulvaney who say it doesn't show results, we'd beg to differ. A program that provides food to seniors and allows them to age in place is definitely better than spending government money for hospitals and elder care facilities.

The money Mulvaney says will be saved by gutting the Community Development Block Grant program is merely a drop in the bucket of Trump's $1.1 trillion spending plan. There will be no significant savings by decreasing programs that help seniors, children, and communities.



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