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October 30, 2013

Senate Moves on Older Americans Act

FederalHeadToday, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee began the process of marking-up (meaning debating, amending, or rewriting) S.1562, the Older Americans Act Reauthorization Act of 2013.

As you may know, the Older Americans Act (OAA) was scheduled to be reauthorized in 2011. This historically bi-partisan law, has, however, been trapped in the same partisanship that has gripped all of Washington.  

OAA is the most significant source of funding for programs that serve older Americans, and in 2011, when the reauthorization process began, SAGE and our advocacy partners, including HRC and members of the Leadership Council of Aging Organizations, consistently advocated to make it LGBT inclusive. During the reauthorization process, there were some high points for the LGBT community.  In 2012, Senator Michael Bennet (D. CO) introduced the LGBT Elder Americans Act of 2012, a set of amendments to the OAA that would have for the first time made the OAA explicitly LGBT inclusive. Senator Bernie Sanders (I. VT) included Senator Bennet’s LGBT-inclusive amendments in his larger, Democratic bill that he introduced in the last Congress and reintroduced during  Older Americans Month (May 2013). SAGE acknowledges and appreciates Senator Bennet and Senator Sanders’s support for LGBT older adults and the leadership they demonstrated in fighting for inclusion of these amendments throughout the reauthorization process. We'd also like to thank Chairman Tom Harkin (D. IA) and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D. WI) for their continued support of the LGBT amendments.

Shortly before the government shutdown, following weeks of bi-partisan negotiations by Senators Harkin, Sanders, Alexander, and Burr, the Committee introduced a new, shorter, reauthorization bill, S.1562, that is effectively a straight reauthorization (no pun intended).  By and large, this bill reauthorizes the OAA with only minor, technical changes.  It does not include any LGBT amendments, nor almost any amendments other aging advocates were seeking.  So, like nearly all constituencies advocating for more substantial changes, it appears that we will have to set our sights on the next reauthorization

And while we were disappointed that the Committee did not take the opportunity to follow the lead of Senators Bennet and Sanders in addressing the unique barriers to successful aging faced by millions of LGBT older people throughout the country, we are nonetheless pleased that members of the HELP Committee have reached across party lines to come to an agreement for reauthorization of this most important piece of legislation. SAGE supports S.1562, which would, for the first time since 2006, reauthorize the OAA and help the aging network more efficiently and effectively provide services and supports to older adults across the country.  LGBT older adults, who have higher rates of poverty, social isolation, poor physical and mental health—and thinner support networks—than the general population, know better than anyone the critical services and supports that the OAA provides.

As the reauthorization continues, we look forward to working with members of the Committee to continue drawing attention to the challenges faced by LGBT older adults.  And we look forward to advancing policy solutions that will enable this population to obtain, as equally as anyone else, the services and supports they need to age in place, with dignity and in their communities.

To learn more about SAGE's work on OAA, and its importance to LGBT older adults, please visit our OAA Issue page.

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