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Bennet aims to help LGBT seniors

Legislation would provide support, resources

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., has introduced legislation to ensure couples and others in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender community have the services they need as they grow older.

The LGBT Elder Americans Act would build upon the Older Americans Act to include LGBT seniors as a vulnerable population and permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging.

Durango resident Sandy Thornton-Cooper, 51, says she has trouble finding a job because of her age and a disability. She welcomed the bill as she thinks about getting help applying for her Social Security benefits.

“Just because we’re gay doesn’t mean we’re not getting older,” she said.

As the number of Americans age 65 and older surges during the next few decades, the number of LGBT seniors is estimated to double to 3 million by 2030. Lawmakers sponsoring the bill point to research that shows LGBT seniors have fewer sources of support compared with heterosexual people and therefore face higher poverty rates and experience poor health and health access.

“As baby boomers continue to age, it’s important that we understand the unique needs of this diverse generation,” Bennet said. “For LGBT seniors, questions about health care and financial issues can be particularly difficult without a trustworthy advocate to help guide them through these challenging decisions. And now, with full marriage equality thankfully the law of the land, many older LGBT couples have additional planning decisions to make. This bill will help aging service organizations assist older LGBT adults and their caregivers.”

Should it make its way through Congress, advocates expect to capitalize on the support of President Barack Obama.

“On the heels of the White House Conference on Aging and breakthrough announcements from the Obama administration to combat discrimination against LGBT elders, there could not be a better moment to reintroduce the LGBT Elder Americans Act so that Congress can do its part,” said Michael Adams, executive director of Services and Advocacy for Gay Elders.

The bill would permanently establish the National Resource Center on LGBT Aging, which would be the country’s first technical assistance resource center aimed at improving the quality of services and support offered to older LGBT adults. Lawmakers said the center’s resources would include educating mainstream aging service organizations about the needs of LGBT seniors and providing educational resources to LGBT seniors, their families and their caregivers. The center would also work with LGBT organizations to ensure that the special needs of older adults are taken into account.

The bill would also prioritize research and development grants for organizations working to improve LGBT health, long-term care needs and access to culturally responsive services.

mbaksh@durangoherald.com. Mariam Baksh is a student at American University in Washington, D.C., and an intern for The Durango Herald.

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