May 2, 2016

Reducing Stress Among LGBT Older Adults

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition on April 26th, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Maria Glover Wallace

April is National Stress Awareness Month and there is no better time for seniors to relax and recoup! Our LGBT seniors may face daily stress regarding housing, healthcare, and finances. Thankfully, many can find comfort in community during regular interaction and engagement in programming provided by community organizations such as Affinity Community Services in Chicago, IL.  Affinity provides a safe and brave space for LGBT seniors participating in the monthly Trailblazers peer-led group.

The LGBT communities face high levels of discrimination and prejudice for who they are and who they love, beginning in youth and continuing through later years in life. Compounded with the stress of aging – issues of health, fitness, mental health, caregiving, economic security, and more – our elders may be experiencing a lot of stress. A study in 2011 from the University of Washington showed that older adults who identify as LGBT face higher rates of disabilities and physical and mental stress than their heterosexual peers.

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Our LGBT seniors are a vital resource of strength and remembrance for the many strides of progress in our community. They should not suffer this undue burden. So, what are some ways that we can reduce this stress?

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 18 million adults in the US practiced meditation last year. Meditation, along with group activities that include yoga and guided meditation, are wonderful opportunities for LGBT seniors to relax and release some stress while also building community. Additional techniques for stress relief include:

  • keeping a journal
  • creating art
  • exercising
  • dancing
  • using essential oils to relax
  • downloading mobile apps for individual meditation
  • taking walks to enjoy nature

What are some techniques that you use to reduce stress?

Upcoming Events for LGBT Seniors:
Chicago
The Affinity Trailblazers will host their annual dance “Dancing in Style,” Saturday evening, May 7, 2016 at the Caribbean Cove Restaurant. Please contact Affinity Community Services for more information: 773-324-0377

Affinity Community Services has also launched a care skills initiative called “Trailblazers Who Care” in collaboration with The Care Plan. They are pleased to present a FREE informative monthly workshop series on the 2nd Wednesday of every month from 6pm-8pm.  Please call to RSVP: 630-479-0083

New York
Every Monday through Thursday from 10am to 11am, SAGE Center Bronx hosts an open art studio. Spend the morning creating art with us! Our art supplies will be available for all to use. SAGE Center Bronx also hosts Yoga at 11am and Pilates at 12pm every Monday. Questions? SAGE Center Bronx, 718-960-3337, jcollazo@sageusa.org

Every Tuesday at 11am, SAGE-Griot Innovative Senior Center of Brooklyn hosts sitting Tai Chi. Designed for elders, this program will help those with arthritis and other ailments that prevent full movement. Questions? Aundaray Guess, 718-246-2775, aundaray@griotcircle.org

SAGE Center Harlem hosts a Zumba class every Tuesday and Thursday at 11am. Once you feel the rhythms of Latin and World music you’ll forget you’re in a “workout” session. Join us as we shake off calories with aerobic dance moves, one cha-cha step at a time. Consultant provided by Harlem Wellness Center. Questions? SAGE Center Harlem, 646-660-8951, sageharlem@sageusa.org

For a complete calendar of SAGE events, see http://www.sageusa.org/newsevents/calendar.cfm

Nationwide
NHCOA recently launched its new health, fitness, and wellness curriculum for Hispanic older adults called Move, Exercise, and Nourish. Read their blog to learn more about this exciting program, and stay tuned to NHCOA’s Facebook page to see when the program might be coming to your area!

The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging has a great Healthy Aging Toolkit for older adults, which includes myriad resources that can improve health and reduce stress.

Please share your events and resources with us on Facebook and Twitter!

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. What do you need to know as an LGBT older adult? Follow the SAGE blog this month for more!
April 28, 2016

Budgeting for Housing, Healthcare and Marriage Shouldn’t Be Scary

By Vera Lukacs

LGBT older adults have unique financial concerns. Not only are they faced with economic uncertainty, but they face discrimination in housing and healthcare, and the prospect of marriage is still new for many. How can LGBT older adults budget better for basic necessities? This question is important, considering that over 25 million older adults (60+) are living in poverty. Contrary to popular belief, planning and budgeting can be a positive experience! It can be tough to think about, but it’s worth doing when you have the chance to prepare and get a step ahead. Not sure where to start? Check out this LGBT Financial Planning Guide.

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Budgeting for healthcare in later years is incredibly important. LGBT older adults have a vast amount of needs that their heterosexual counterparts don’t even think about. But first, a significant factor in this process is LGBT elders need to feel comfortable sharing who they are with their healthcare providers. For transgender people seeking hormone treatments and surgeries or those with HIV, finding a provider can be a scary process. GLMA has a provider directory to help people find LGBT-competent healthcare providers.

LGBT older adults often struggle to find affordable and safe housing. Many don’t have the economic security to invest in long term care facilities, and many are denied housing simply for being who they are. Nearly half of older same-sex couples experienced at least one form of differential treatment when inquiring about housing in a long-term care facility. SAGE launched the National LGBT Elder Housing Initiative to address these issues.

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What does marriage equality mean for LGBT couples? See our new toolkit, Talk Before You Walk: Considerations for LGBT Older Couples Before Getting Married. Getting married is about more than bringing two individuals together. Marriage provides a number of benefits, rights, and protections. With these rights comes the sharing of financial liabilities. To ensure a secured household, talk with your partner before you walk!

Appointing a power of attorney can come in handy in an emergency. In the event that an LGBT older adult is incapacitated or otherwise unable to make sound decisions, a power of attorney can allow a trusted loved one to step in and decide on their behalf. For more information on planning your last wishes, see our blog Financial Literacy: Tips and Tricks for LGBT Elders!

Vera Lukacs is a digital media assistant at SAGE. April is Financial Literacy Month. What do you need to know as an LGBT older adult? Follow the SAGE blog this month for more!

April 22, 2016

Talk Before You Walk: Considerations for Older Couples Before Getting Married

Screen Shot 2016-04-22 at 3.44.54 PMWhen the U.S. Supreme Court decided Obergefell v. Hodges, the freedom to marry became the law of the land. This victory forever changed financial planning and legal relationships for LGBT families.

Deciding to wed is an important step.What’s different and what remains unchanged for LGBT couples following the landmark Obergefell ruling? SAGE's new toolkit, Talk Before You Walk: Considerations for Older Couples Before Getting Married, shows how same-sex couples, especially older same-sex couples, can take steps to ensure that they are fully aware of the legal impact marriage has on a variety of family planning situations. View and download the toolkit today.

This SAGE toolkit is made possible through generous support from MetLife Foundation and Citi. Follow the conversation on Twitter with #SAGEFinance and #TalkB4UWalk.

April 21, 2016

2016 Leaders of Tomorrow: Bruce Williams

This post originally appeared on Long-Term Living on April 19, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Sharon Schnall

Bruce Williams was discriminated against because of his sexual orientation as recently as 2012, but he's working to make sure that becomes a thing of the past.

Williams, 69, is the first senior services coordinator with The Pride Center at Equality Park, a nonprofit center that serves the LGBT community of South Florida. He began volunteering at the center eight years ago and eventually became president of the senior advisory committee. 

Williams
Image via southfloridagaynews.com

The senior programming arm of The Pride Center creates critical connections among providers and recipients. Coffee and Conversation, a weekly two-hour program, attracts 200 attendees, up from 30 to 50 attendees just four years ago. The event is one of the nation's largest weekly gatherings of LGBT adults according to the national organization Services & Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders (SAGE).

There's been significant growth of program availability and participant attendance with other center senior classes, including enhanced fitness, driver safety, income tax preparation and mastering personal technology. A Boomer/Senior Health Exposition, now in its seventh year, attracts 60 area vendors and 600 attendees.

Last year, senior activity included an estimated 27,000 visits, Williams says. The senior events meet members' needs for socialization and camaraderie, but they also educate seniors about community resources.

"I like to use new and different approaches," Williams says. "I like to maintain a flexibility. What worked yesterday does not work today; what works today may not work tomorrow."

Williams should know—he spent nearly 25 years running a Houston, Texas, continuing care retirement community. From 1981 to 2006, he served at different times as assistant director and acting director of Treemont Retirement Community, where he oversaw residential life and 200 employees associated with 330 independent living apartments and a 114-bed healthcare facility.

"His experience in the long-term care community gives him the knowledge, insight, hands-on practical applications, purpose and compassion that he brings to the center. A senior himself, he is the perfect example to those he serves," says nominator Betty Rosse, a professional educator, public speaker and group facilitator, who has presented at the center.

To provide quality care to LGBT persons, as with any other population, Williams says, "You have to be accurate reading what people need and require."

Easier said than done.

Older adults in the LGBT community grew up in a world of homophobia. They remember the Stonewall riots and the McCarthy hearings. "There's tremendous intolerance and bigotry that exists," Williams says, adding he did not live an openly gay life until 2009.

Discrimination because of one's sexual orientation can cause isolation, distrust and fear, which impacts how willingly long-term care services are pursued. For anyone who "has grown up their whole life with stigma," the reluctance to discuss sexual orientation and openly engage with senior service representatives, healthcare providers and community agencies is warranted, he adds.

Non-LGBT professionals, Williams says, are not necessarily aware of how LGBT life experiences impact one's economic resources, family support and employment prospects.

"With my background in long-term care and acute care, I came here with a mission. I know the value of advance planning," he says. "I spent 25 years in the field of long-term care. I am well aware of how using the services of long-term care will tremendously enhance the final third of one's life."

This year, The Pride Center began serving as SAGE-authorized trainers under the Protect our Elders initiative subsidized by Our Fund, a Florida philanthropic organization. SAGE's curriculum teaches best practices when serving LGBT seniors. South Florida healthcare and service professionals will complete the first phase of training through The Pride Center and other local trainer agencies. The training carries continuing education credits for degreed workers in the field of LTC services.

A hallmark of the Protect Our Elders curriculum is promoting cultural competency. The concept, with roots dating back to the 1980s, promotes awareness and respect about others' differences and cultivates a willingness and ability to be responsive through appropriate attitude and policy.

Williams wants people to proactively address matters of aging and be vocal about what they value in service delivery. His message: don't postpone making the "appropriate moves, the appropriate changes, at the right time." 

"It's as simple as posting a picture of a same-sex couple, for example, among an array of portraits featured in continuing care retirement community's main lobby," he says. "It shows acceptance." It's as straightforward and respectful, he adds, as using the word "partner" on a doctor's intake questionnaire or on a housing application.

"We age with so many commonalities, and we age with so many differences," Williams says. "We age with so many preferences. It's a work-in-process trying to understand what someone's individual wants and needs are.

"I am making people aware of the possibilities—they have the choices."

Sharon Schnall is a writer based in Ohio.

April 19, 2016

A New LGBTQ Victory Is a Victory for All of Us: The Social Security Administration Does the Right Thing

The following excerpt is from an article that originally appeared on The Huffington Post blog on April 16, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Nancy Altman

Does the government work for us or against us? As the result of a decision by the Social Security Administration (“SSA”), the government is working better for all of us today. For convincing SSA to do the right thing, we should thank Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Representative Mark Takano (D-CA), and 119 of their colleagues. We are also indebted, for this victory, to two effective, dedicated nonprofits, Justice in Aging and the GLBTQ Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), as well as Foley Hoag, LLP, the law firm that assisted them.

SSA is responsible for two crucially important programs. It administers Social Security, which provides a floor of economic protection in the form of insurance to working families whose wages are lost as the result of death, disability or old age. It also administers a companion program, Supplemental Security Income (“SSI”), which provides means-tested benefits to extremely low-income seniors and people with disabilities.

These programs exemplify the good that can be done when all of us work together through our government to improve all of our lives. But, despite its positive mission, SSA has been engaging in a destructive practice that represents government not working for us, but against us. SSA has been sending, to hundreds of thousands of Social Security beneficiaries and SSI recipients, bills for what it concludes are overpayments.

These are not cases of fraud (which are vanishingly rare) but, frequently, cases where it was the government itself that made the error. The beneficiaries and recipients did nothing wrong. They reported all information correctly, but the government did not act on the information in a timely way or created the error in some other way. To add insult to injury, our government outrageously calls those receiving these notices “debtors,” though they have done nothing wrong, and, indeed, may be scrupulous about paying their bills on time.

The federal government has enormous power. When it chooses to go after someone, it is generally an intimidating experience even when the person in its crosshairs is an innocent, law abiding citizen. If this powerful entity is seeking large sums of money that you don’t have, it can be a disruptive and upsetting experience. Moreover, in the case of Social Security and SSI overpayments, the government is going after people who are generally our most vulnerable fellow Americans. Over the last year, this intimidating power got turned on the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ community, as a result of the 2013 landmark Supreme Court decision, US v. Windsor.

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Image: Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor, via ACLU

The Windsor case struck down the offensively-named Defense of Marriage Act. As a result of the Supreme Court decision, same-sex couples who were legally married under state law finally had their marriages recognized by the federal government. For couples in which one or both partners received SSI, this important victory was followed by a distressing letter from the government. Under SSI’s stringent and complicated rules, married recipients receive lower benefits than those who are unmarried. Consequently, a year after that landmark case, SSA began reviewing its SSI rolls to determine whether the benefits it was paying some of its recipients, now that same-sex marriages were recognized as marriages, were now inaccurate in amount.

When SSA found that benefits were now too high, it did not just change the benefit level going forward. It sought repayment of the difference between the two amounts for every benefit paid all the way back to July 1, 2013, the month following the Windsor decision. Here was the government coming after people for large sums of money that they didn’t have.

Continue reading on The Huffington Post blog.

April 18, 2016

Advance directives are only a first step

This post originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on March 27, 2016. Read the original post here.

By Kimberly Callinan

Tomorrow, April 16th, is National Healthcare Decisions Day. The Diverse Elders Coalition encourages all of our elders, their families, and our communities to start conversations with one another about end-of-life choice and advance directives. Today’s blog post comes from Compassion & Choices‘ Kimberly Callinan and originally appeared in the Virginian-Pilot.

My grandmother died feeling betrayed, frightened and utterly powerless in a bleak hospital room.

She’d completed an advance directive about her end-of-life goals, preferences and values, including a Do Not Resuscitate order. But when an emergency landed her in the hospital, the emergency room team ignored her advance directive and resuscitated her back to “life” just long enough for her to realize they had ignored her documented wishes.

She died shortly after being resuscitated, but not before she let the health care team know she was angry.

Unfortunately, my grandmother is not alone. In conversations with supporters of the end-of-life choice advocacy organization that I work for, Compassion & Choices, I often hear similar tales. Furthermore, there is increasing evidence that advance directives alone are not enough to ensure that people’s end-of-life goals, priorities and values are honored. Below are some of the shortcomings:

• Lack of Participation: Only one in four Americans (23 percent) has an advance directive in place, according to a 2014 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

• Lack of Coordination: The dying person and health care proxy often have not discussed the patient’s goals, preferences and values. In fact, fewer than 3 in 10 people have actually talked with their loved ones about end-of-life care, according to a survey conducted by the conversation project.

• Lack of Relevance: Since advance directives are by definition written in advance — sometimes many years in advance — they often lack relevance to current events and decisions near the person’s end of life.

• Lack of Access: It is all-too-common that an advance directive along with the DNR order is locked away in a desk or safe when a life-threatening emergency arises, leaving family members and medical providers unsure whether they even exist.

• Lack of Enforcement: Doctors are not held accountable for following advance directives. Until they are enforced, physicians are unlikely to follow them because they are trained to do everything possible to keep a terminally ill person alive, regardless of whether the treatment only prolongs an agonizing dying process.

Federal policymakers need to address the growing demand for reform by passing legislation that advances the delivery of person-centered care.

A good first step would be for Congress to pass the bipartisan Care Planning Act sponsored by Sens. Mark Warner from Virginia and Johnny Isakson from Georgia.

The legislation would require providers to include prominently in the patient’s medical record the content of an advance directive.

In addition, the bill gives patients the option of signing a “portable treatment order” to give providers specific instructions about patient preferences in receiving care. Medicare-certified providers would be obliged to comply with these orders in any care setting, including the home.

The bill also would require Medicare-certified providers to comply with a patient’s verbal and non-verbal treatment instructions. When a patient lacks the capacity to make a decision, a provider must adhere to a patient’s advance directive.

In the absence of a directive issued in the state where care is being provided, the provider must respect an advance directive signed by the patient in another state to facilitate the ease and adherence of advance directives across state lines.

If the Care Planning Act had been in effect when my grandmother was dying, it would have increased the likelihood that her end-of-life wishes were honored. It’s too late to help her now, but it is not too late to pass this legislation to ensure that we honor the end-of-life wishes of millions of Americans in the future.

Kimberly Callinan is chief program officer of Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice-advocacy organization.

April 15, 2016

Bringing LGBT Elders and Youth Together

By Vera Lukacs

On April 15, students from all over the globe will take a vow of silence to raise awareness of bullying, discrimination and harassment against LGBT youth. GLSEN’s Day of Silence started in 1996 by Maria Pulzetti, a student at the University of Virginia. By 1997, the Day of Silence had spread across the nation to 100 colleges. Today it’s an annual event held around the world, reaching more than 10,000 registered students.

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This student-led protest is a beautiful example of how youth and their allies are banding together to take on the issues facing LGBT youth and young adults. But what about bullying against LGBT elders? This happens all too often, especially in housing and care facilities where LGBT older adults are vulnerable to discrimination and harassment.

LGBT Older Adults in Long-Term Care Facilities: Stories from the Field reports on a survey of 769 individuals taken in 2011. About half of the participants reported 853 instances of abuse by staff at their long-term care facilities. One participant, Sam a 51-year-old LGBT rights activist with experience in long-term care facilities said, "LGBT elders...are forced to remain hidden, and when placed in long-term care facilities, become even further isolated." It is vital that LGBT older adults and their families and friends seek inclusive long-term care facilities.

Bullying in long-term facilities causes so much discomfort that in some cases LGBT older adults are forced back into the closet. According to the 2015 report, From Social Bullying in Schools to Bullying in Senior Housing A New Narrative & Holistic Approach to Maintaining Residents’ Dignity, “Seniors in assisted living, skilled nursing, and memory care are vulnerable to resident-to-resident social bullying in ways that can make their living situations uncomfortable and, in some instances, intolerable. Oftentimes they are unable to remove themselves from situations, and may not even be able to communicate how they feel toward others in their community, causing great anguish.”

Luckily, the country is moving toward providing more inclusive and safe housing for LGBT older adults. Just last month, the Lavender Courtyard, an LGBT intergenerational housing facility, received nearly $3 million from the Sacramento City Council.

Bullying against LGBT elders or youth is never right. Thanks to the Day of Silence, bullying against LGBT youth is addressed in a peaceful, yet powerful way. Let’s take this annual protest and safe and inclusive housing initiatives for the LGBT community as examples of how to support one another.

Vera Lukacs is a digital media assistant at SAGE. Learn more about GLSEN’s Day of Silence and the Lavender Courtyard project online.

April 14, 2016

Financial Decision Making Tips for Elders

This post originally appeared on National Indian Council on Aging (NICOA) on April 6th, 2016. Read the original post here

By Christine Herman

Making good financial decisions isn’t easy. Despite the fact that we gain knowledge over the course of our lives, as Elders it actually becomes more difficult to make sound financial choices. Surprisingly, as part of the aging process, our decision-making ability starts to decline in our 50s. Cognitive impairment and conditions like dementia or Alzheimer’s disease can accelerate the decline of decision-making ability.

But it’s not just our ability to understand financial situations that makes it difficult. The world is increasingly complex, with many different costs and expenses to keep track of each month. It is also more complicated, as financial services have become more and more difficult to understand – and some of them are downright dangerous.

Tight budgets and thin paychecks have caused many of us – Elders and our children alike – to find it hard to make ends meet. Loans which didn’t exist 50 years ago – payday loans, car title loans, tax refund loans, and other types of loans, have crept into our communities. These loans are what are called “predatory loans” because the companies that make them only care about their own profits – often at the expense of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN). Unfortunately, research suggests that in some parts of Indian Country, as many as 50% of all AI/AN have used predatory loans.

Though many nations have tried to put a stop to these loans, they’re often still legal outside of tribal jurisdiction and just a short drive from our communities. The results are often tragic – people spend thousands upon thousands of dollars struggling to get out of debt, often because of a loan that was only a few hundred dollars. Some AI/AN have gone without food, and others have lost their cars or even their homes as a result of these predators and their loans.

While finances can be complicated, creating a basic budget to understand where one’s money is going every month – and how much is coming in – is crucial for our wellbeing. It is also important to learn how to identify and avoid bad loans and financial services that are designed to hurt us and make others rich. So too is knowing what services and benefits are available to help make ends meet – and there are some good resources available to help make financial decisions a little easier.

Making decisions about money can be challenging. So much so, that we may put off making decisions until another day. But the financial decisions you make (or don’t make) through the course of your life can have far-reaching effects as you age. For Elders on a tight budget, the financial decisions you make today are very important and can have a dramatic impact on your current standard of living, as well as what you may be able to leave your children or heirs in the future.

Financial decision-making may not get easier with age

Evidence suggests that even though we gain experience making financial decisions as we age, unfortunately our cognitive ability – the ability to think a problem through – decreases after age 53.  (1) This means that making good decisions when it comes to managing money, investments, and debts gets more difficult for Elders as they age.

Elders with “mild cognitive impairment” – those who have some difficulty with memory – will experience much more difficulty making good financial decisions. This is a part of the aging process, as the ability to easily and quickly learn new information begins to decrease in ones 60’s, and more rapidly decreases in ones 70’s. Elders with diagnosed dementia or Alzheimer’s disease will experience a more rapid decline in their ability to make financial decisions.(2) In 2010, American Elders lost $2.9 billion dollars due to financial abuse such as fraud and scams.  (1)

Password nicoa Threats to Financial Safety

There are a growing number of threats to financial safety. The age of the Internet has brought new threats, with hackers – computer criminals – and “viruses” – bad computer programs – that are able to steal financial information by using fraudulent emails or websites. In addition, high interest loans or financial services that take advantage of the need for quick cash can be very expensive and can wreck your financial future.

Loan services are a major problem around AI/AN communities. While many nations in Indian Country have passed laws to limit or outlaw services such as payday loans, title loans, or tax refund loans, these services do still legally operate outside of tribal lands in many states. The companies providing these types of loans are often referred to as “predatory lenders” because the loans come with very high interest rates – the price paid for the money borrowed – and other fees that can make the loan difficult or impossible to repay.  (3)

In many communities, there may be little or no access to banking services and even those living near a bank may find it difficult to get a personal loan. Because of disparities in income and little or no access to banks and credit, AI/AN communities are by far the largest population using predatory loans. Where only about 6% of the general population in the United States has utilized these types of loans, research has shown that nearly half of American Indians on New Mexico and South Dakota reservations have used them before.  (3)

For example, a title loan – a predatory loan against the ownership of a car – has an interest rate of 300% and only pays a loan amount of 26% of the vehicle’s value on average.   The average title loan recipient will receive a loan of $951 but will have to pay $2,142 in interest in addition to the loan amount. The total to repay the loan, on average, is $3093.  (4)

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In other words, the average total price for every $1.00 borrowed is $2.26, and the repayment for every dollar borrowed is $3.26. Those who cannot repay the loan will lose their vehicle, may be charged fees and may still be required to repay part of or the entire loan.

While payday, installment, or tax refund loans may not carry the risk of the loss of a vehicle, they too carry very high interest rates and fees that make repayment extremely expensive. All such predatory loans are designed to help the company that issues the loan make a hefty profit, regardless of the consequences to the borrower. Especially for Elders on a “fixed income” of Social Security and/or retirement benefits, such loans can be devastating whether or not they result in the loss of property.

Half of all states have laws to outlaw predatory lending, but unfortunately predatory loans may still exist. Some companies within Indian Country operate on nations where predatory lending is still not illegal, and may offer large loans with repayment over many years. These loans have the same characteristics of the smaller predatory loans, and may cost eight times as much as the loan amount to repay.  (5) Extreme caution should be used when looking for a loan whether or not the source of the loan is inside or outside Indian Country.

Other threats to your financial security may include scam artists or other fraudulent activities. Watch out for and avoid unsolicited mail, email or messages demanding that you verify bank account or other personal information. Never open email from unfamiliar senders. Always do business with companies and individuals that you are familiar with to avoid the possibility of being scammed. If it is “too good to be true,” it probably is!  (1)

Making Good Financial Decisions

Financial decisions are often complicated and can be confusing. However, a number of different resources are available to help make understanding and dealing with financial issues easier. The resources below can help you create a better financial plan.

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Online calculators

The online calculator found on the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) website (https://secure.aarp.org/work/retirement-planning/retirement_calculator.html), and can help determine how much money you need to retire based on a wide variety of financial factors.

A Retirement Estimator, tool found on the Social Security Administration website (https://www.socialsecurity.gov/retire/estimator.html is a resource to help you more accurately plan for retirement by helping determine how much your social security benefit will be.

And finally, the online calculator found on Credit Karma’s website (https://www.creditkarma.com/calculators/debtrepayment) can help you determine how long it will take to pay back a loan or credit card based on the amount borrowed, the interest rate, and either how much you can pay per month or how soon you want to repay the debt.

Create a monthly budget

Especially for Elders on a fixed income, it is critical to have a clear picture of all the monthly expenses and income in the household. Gather all of the monthly bills (known as ‘fixed expenses” – the same every month), social security statements, pension and/or retirement income statements, as well as receipts for things like groceries and fuel (known as ‘variable expenses’ because they can change month to month).

Download the easy NICOA basic budget tool (requires Microsoft Excel) or create a simple document listing the following to get an idea of how much is spent every month and how much income is available to cover expenses:

  • Fixed Expenses: mortgage/rent payment; home owner/renter insurance; health insurance/Medicare; life insurance; car payment; car insurance; phone bill; cable/satellite bill; internet bill; other loans payments,
    • Subtotal (add all fixed expenses): $
  • Variable Expenses: electricity bill; natural gas/propane/heating oil bill; water bill; gasoline or diesel expenses; credit card payments; food and household goods expenses; prescription costs; other purchases (like appliances, clothes, copays, etc):
    • Subtotal (add all variable expenses): $
    • TOTAL EXPENSES (add fixed and variable expenses): $
  • Income: social security benefits; retirement/investment income; pension income; salary from work; other sources of income:
    • TOTAL INCOME (add all income): $
    • NET INCOME (subtract expenses from income): $

If net income is a positive number (like $250), this is the money left over after all monthly bills and expenses are paid. If net income is a negative number (like -$135), the expenses are more than monthly income and cannot be paid without taking on debt (like loans, credit cards, etc.), reducing expenses (like canceling cable or internet service), or attaining more income or financial assistance (like a new job or SNAP benefits).

NestStart saving money – it’s not too late

Start saving money every month. Saving $25 per week, every week for ten years in an account that paid no interest would amount to $13,000! Many credit unions and banks offer free savings accounts which pay interest (pay you money). Other credit unions and some banks offer a free checking account if certain conditions are met, like having a monthly direct deposit (such as a Social Security check or paycheck) put directly into the account.

You can choose to have a certain amount of money automatically moved from checking to savings each month, a secure way to put money away for retirement without even having to think about it. Check with your local credit union or bank for details about different accounts that are available and ask about free savings and checking account services. Starting to save early and saving as much as possible will help ensure a secure financial future.

Never use predatory loans!

Loan companies specializing in predatory loans are there to make money for themselves at the expense of the borrower. Predatory lenders do not care what happens to the borrower, whether it’s paying thousands of dollars in interest, going hungry, or even losing a car or home due to an inability to pay monthly expenses.

NEVER sign without reading the “fine print”

Contracts and agreements to buy products or services, for loans, or for other legal or financial matters are VERY important. The conditions for buying the product or service are found in these documents – often in the “fine print” – specify the terms that are being agreed to and may be legally binding. Even though the documents are usually lengthy and may contain complicated legal language, always read them before signing anything. Make sure that the terms and conditions are clear and understandable.

If the document does not make sense or is too hard to understand, request a copy of the contract and seek the advice of someone who is knowledgeable and qualified to explain it. NEVER sign anything that does not make sense or is too hard to understand without getting help first. It is easy to walk away from a bad deal before any documents are signed, but after a contract is signed, it can be very hard to get out of one. Do not give into the pressure of someone trying to make a deal; it’s always okay to walk away and come back later.

Get Help: Counseling & Benefits

Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRC) can provide options counseling services and connections to resources that can assist with financial planning. These centers can also help Elders get benefits, such as help to pay for food, electricity and heat, phone services, medical costs, prescriptions, and much more.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Community Living provides an interactive map to help locate an ADRC near you (http://www.adrc-tae.acl.gov/tiki-index.php?page_ref_id=739), as well as a complete directory of ADRCs in the U.S. and U.S. territories.

SOURCES:

  1. Setzfand, Jean C. (2011). Give Your Parents the Gift of Financial Peace of Mind. Retrieved November 2015, from AARP:http://www.aarp.org/money/investing/info-10-2011/financial-help-for-elderly-parents.html
  2. Eisenberg, Richard (2013). How Aging Impacts Our Financial Decisions. Retrieved November 2015, from Next Avenue;http://www.nextavenue.org/how-aging-impacts-our-financial-decisions/
  3. Wessler, Seth Freed (2014). Endless Debt: Native Americans Plagued High-Interest Loans. Retrieved November 2015, from NBC News; http://www.nbcnews.com/feature/in-plain-sight/endless-debt-native-americans-plagued-high-interest-loans-n236706
  4. Giusti, Autumn Cafiero (2013). The Consumer Perils of a Car Title Loan. Retrieved November 2015, from Bankrate:http://www.bankrate.com/finance/auto/consumer-perils-car-title-loan.aspx
  5. Pilnick, Katherine (2013). Regulations Target Western Sky and Native American Predatory Lending. Retrieved November 2015, from Debt. Org: https://www.debt.org/2013/02/25/western-sky-predatory-lending/

 

 

April 13, 2016

Passages

This post originally appeared on Diverse Elders Coalition on April 7th, 2016. Read the original post here.

by Harry Breaux, a member of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation‘s Elizabeth Taylor 50+ Network. Harry turned 71 on March 21, 2016. He is one of the long-term survivors of HIV/AIDS featured in the documentary “Last Men Standing.” 

Passages

Recently I found myself upset with a friend and realized how small my life had become. Years ago, I was educated to be a successful something-or-other, and I tried for years to accomplish that very goal. However, once I graduated from the military school to which my parents sent me at age 12 due to my budding homosexuality, I found life to be very different than I expected. The doors that would normally open to help, were suddenly closed due to my “sexual orientation.”

There were years of shame, hiding, repressing my feelings and generally trying to be someone or something I was not. The ’70s were, in theory, the perfect time to reach out and speak out and “find myself.” It wasn’t that black and white, though.

When I was born in 1945, I was illegal. Not illegitimate, that’s a different game altogether. Homosexuality was listed as a disease until 1973 (I was 28) when the American Psychiatric Association declassified homosexuality as a disease. I was born homosexual. It was not a choice I made. I remember always being attracted to the male rather than the female. Maybe it was all those manly cowboys I saw at the movies on Saturday afternoon. I could never remember who the woman was, but I knew all the cowboys. My natural, God-given desire and emotional attraction were not heterosexual.

Coming to San Francisco in the early 1970s was a wonderland of freedom. Sexual freedom for homosexuals was a hot topic. We found ourselves expressing connection with each other in ways that were heightened by the unusual times of the “hippie era.” When Harvey Milk was elected and then assassinated nine months later, it became a double duty to assess the damage and try to re-assemble the momentum that had built up to those historic years. Mobilization was occurring at many levels to keep the community together, vibrant, and on track to establish basic human rights for our group.

Then AIDS began to show up. First, it was confusing, then saddening, then frightening. Daily reminders of the devastation met us on every block; gaunt friends, barely able to walk any longer were seen all around us. Friends, who just a few days, weeks or months before had appeared healthy, were no disappearing at an accelerated pace. During the next several years, the time moved as if we were all caught in a slow motion movie. Obituaries took up four, five, or more pages in the Bay Area Reporter each week.

After joining Shanti emotional support training in 1984 or so, after hearing of a friend’s death, and volunteering as a counselor for a couple of years, I began to feel a quickening in my own body that could not be ignored. Fear called me to take a break and I retired to the Big Sur coast for nine months. I had been HIV+ since 1980. By 1996, after being what was termed “a slow progressor,” I basically collapsed two days after arriving in San Jose for a Christmas visit with friends. I spent three weeks in the hospital: MAC, PP, Cryptococcal Meningitis. The first week, I was given a 50/50 chance to survive. After that, the drugs began to work and I was eventually released.

At the time of my release, January 1997, the cocktail had been out probably no more than 6 months. I was lucky. It stopped the virus in me from replicating and I’ve been virally undetectable ever since. After spending a couple of weeks on my friend’s couch and being taken care of, I was up and on the way to the health I experience today.

There is no easy path to this place. It’s been a touch and go, hope and fear process throughout. I applaud the attitudes of today that have evolved. Having a country turn its back on me was never a betrayal that I could understand. We still have a long way to go to meet the challenges of today’s world.

What was accomplished in San Francisco or New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles, was nothing less than a major breakthrough for the persons of a different sexual orientation. May this inclusion of a diverse population into the mainstream of society never cease. I applaud all who are living with terminal diseases. It disrupts a life in a way no one can understand unless they experience it. Those around us who are not going through this also need acknowledgment for the stress and love they are called to give. No one signs up for these things, but they definitely happen.

Peace-filled energy to all of us.

April 11, 2016

We Are the Voices of Change: Fighting Back North Carolina’s HB2

This post originally appeared on HuffPost Queer Voices on April 6th, 2016. Read the original post here.

In a 12 hour special session on March 23rd, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2 (HB2). Designed to overturn a Charlotte City Council ordinance which protects lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people in public accommodation, commercial contracting and taxis, HB2 is the most sweeping anti-LGBT legislation in the nation, according to Equality North Carolina(NC). It overturns existing ordinances protecting LGBT people across the state and bans transgender people from using restrooms that correspond with their gender.

SAGE (Services and Advocacy for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Elders) is the country’s largest and oldest organization dedicated to improving the lives of LGBT older adults. In support of achieving equal treatment for LGBT people across the country, SAGE has worked with our partners in NC over the last four years to train LGBT older adults to tell their stories of discrimination in housing, health care, public accommodation and employment. Through SAGE Story, our NC affiliates, SAGE Wilmington and SAGE Raleigh, and our partners, the Freedom Center for Social Justice and Equality North Carolina bring the voices of LGBT older adults to the fight.

Serena Worthington, SAGE’s Director of National Field Initiatives, sat down with SAGE Story alum Reverend Debra J. Hopkins, an out and proud transgender woman and a minister at Sacred Souls Community Church in Charlotte, to talk about the importance of anti-discrimination protections for LGBT people, how HB2 harms LGBT North Carolinians and how she uses her story to advocate for equality for all.

Hb2

Serena Worthington: I first met you at SAGE’s Storytelling Summit where I had a chance to interview you one-on-one. I was impressed by your style and how you foreground your personal biography as a transgender woman and a person of faith. Why is this important?

Debra J. Hopkins: Whether I’m behind the pulpit, out in the community or speaking to state representatives or community members, I try to tell my story in a relatable way. I do this because the best story that I can share with anybody is mine own, my story and my journey.

SW: I watched a clip of you testifying at the hearing for the Charlotte non-discrimination ordinance. I was especially impressed by the fact that you spoke so powerfully, even though the room was filled with people opposing the bill and you had just a very brief amount of time. What was that moment like for you?

DH: We only had one minute to speak because there were 140 people there. In the moment, I cut my remarks down from three minutes. If you watch that clip, you see that I step away from what I had at the podium. The quickest way for me to get my story or my point across is to first give a quick bio of who I am, the work that I’m doing and the point that I need to drive home to my audience. Most of my speaking comes from inspiration— it’s an ability, a gift of mine to be able to, at a moment’s notice, be direct and candid about the issues and concerns that many of us have. You are not going to understand me if I’m rushing and I’ve learned the art of condensing so that I can brief but still be passionate and get my point across. You have to be able to work with the time afforded you.

SW: I often hear the phrase storytelling is a Southern tradition. How does that tradition play out for you?

DH: I come out of corporate America—my original home was New York City where I was a broker and a schoolteacher—and what’s fascinating about it is that I have translated that experience down here to the South. Over the 30+ plus years that I’ve been down here, I’ve had a combination of both a Northern flavor and a Southern flavor. Combined with the passion that I have for real change—equality for all—I draw on all of those energies to fit the pieces together when I tell my story.

SW: In person and on video, you have a fantastic delivery style. You take your time, you smile a lot, and you make lots of eye contact which really conveys a strong sense of you as a person. What training have you found to be the most useful to you as you continue to improve your storytelling and speaking skills?

DH: I had a mentor out of Dallas, TX who helped me develop my skills as a young pastor, Dr. Tony Evans. Dr. Evans is the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship and he is also the President of the Urban Alternative Christian Broadcast Ministry. He was very influential to me. I became a pastor a year-and-a-half into my ministry and I didn’t get the tutelage and training that a lot of seasoned pastors would have had early in their careers. I had to learn as I go. My mentor talked about the importance of taking my time, making strong eye contact, and conveying my message as articulately as possible.

SW: Whose story inspires you?

DH: There are three people that move on the altar of my heart. The first one is a transgender woman named Christine Jorgensen, who was an author and entertainer. When I was going through my struggle, the internet was not available and the transgender community was not being spoken of, or fought for, as the gay and lesbian community went battle for their rights. I met Christine Jorgensen about a year-and-a-half before she passed away. She helped me understand what I was going through which sent me on the path to continue to do research.

Also, strange as it may sound, my Dad—who never knew that I was in the midst of my transition because he passed away early. He instilled some very important things in me. One of things he told me that I will always remember is that no matter what I do or wherever I go, be the best that I can be. He told me, if you want to be a bum on the street, be the best bum on the street. If you are going to do anything, do it with dignity and do it with respect.

My current pastor, Bishop Tonyia Rawls, has been quite an influence on me. She is helping me shape my elder years so that I am a more complete vessel in this journey of activism and ministry. She is one uniquely gifted individual and she has such a passion for, not just the LGBT community, but specifically the transgender community—whether it’s youth who are struggling with their sexuality or being thrown out into the streets or those of us who are older. She has been such a moving force, I can’t help but be proud of her. She really moves on the altar of my heart. I love that lady like none other.

These people played such a pioneering role in how I move and how I operate today.

SW: You anticipated the swift state government response to the passage of the Charlotte ordinance and said that the government of NC would work hard to rescind it, which it did by passing HB2. How did the passage of the ordinance change things for you and why do you think state-wide LGBT anti-discrimination protections are important.

DH: As a Black trans woman, the Charlotte ordinance gave me protection and the freedom of knowing that I have the right to enter the same spaces and go to the same things as every law abiding citizen in the state of North Carolina. Many of us are very law abiding citizens. We pay our taxes, we try and get an education, some of us are making major contributions in our communities, some of us are teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc. Protections like the Charlotte ordinance give us a sense of peace. We want to be able to travel, to be able to go somewhere and relax without the fear of looking over our shoulder or experiencing harassment. We want the peace of mind and the security necessary to be full citizens of the state of North Carolina.

SW: What advice do you have for your fellow activists?

DH: The advice that I would give anyone pressing for positive change is to be persistent, whether they journey that road alone or are working collectively with other people. The problem is that many of us become defeated or discouraged because we don’t see immediate change and movement. We have to be persistent, be consistent and we must be extremely patient—we must press forward no matter how long it takes to achieve our goals.

For the activists who are fighting, continue to press forward, tap into people like myself and others. We’ll come along side you and make the trip to Greensboro or Raleigh or wherever the state of North Carolina calls. We can do it together. 

In closing, I’ll say this.

Nobody can tell your story like you can. Nobody can walk in your shoes like you can. So tell your story, let no one else write it for you. You are the only one who can tell it and you are the only one who can tell it right.

We are the voices of change and we want to make our voices heard.

Reverend Debra J. Hopkins is a native of New York currently living in Charlotte, NC where she serves with Time Out Youth, Equality NC, the Freedom Center for Social Justice, and the Transgender Alliance Group. She is a licensed and ordained Minister of 28 years.

Serena Worthington is SAGE's Director of National Field Initiatives. Follow Serena on Twitter: