Task Force to debt commission: First do no harm

As President Obama’s National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform holds its inaugural meeting, advocates for LGBT rights are taking note.

This commission will hold hearings during the coming months to create recommendations to the president and Congress to cut the mounting deficit in the federal budget and reduce the national debt. We fully expect key safety-net programs to be caught in the political crossfire as a polarized Congress tries to sort out the fiscal mess that the economic meltdown has left us.

At the Task Force, we understand how critical it is to the well-being of LGBT families and seniors to maintain the social safety net of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid upon which many LGBT older adults rely to alleviate poverty and barriers to health care.

Despite a dearth of research at the federal level about LGBT people, community-based research indicates that one to three million Americans over 65 are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, and by 2030, that number will rise up to an estimated 6 million. Research suggests that LGBT seniors may be as much as two-thirds more likely to age alone and have more tenuous familial or kinship systems to support them as they age.

Today’s generation of LGBT elders is much less likely to have children to rely on in times of need. Job discrimination across the lifespan forced many LGBT people now in their 70s, 80s and 90s to secure nontraditional, lower-wage employment, making LGBT elders less likely to have reliable pension incomes or adequate accumulations of savings. On top of these deficits, when partnered — and no matter how long — these elders are in relationships unrecognized by the federal government.

This has created an untenable life circumstance for most LGBT people and the Task Force calls on the commission to first do no harm. Slashing critical benefits — even provided unevenly to LGBT people by the social safety net — will only further impoverish an already extremely vulnerable population.

By Laurie Young, Task Force Aging Specialist