Hardly two months into the Trump administration—and only one month after Congress confirmed notoriously anti-LGBT Tom Price as secretary of health and human services—the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, or HHS, has eliminated questions about lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender, or LGBT, people from two critical surveys. The administration is already rolling back data collection on LGBT people who receive certain federal programs, making it impossible to assess whether key programs for seniors and people with disabilities are meeting the needs of LGBT Americans.
Putting LGBT older adults at risk
The National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants is an annual, national survey of people who receive select services funded under the Older Americans Act, or OAA, the primary vehicle for delivering social support and nutrition programs to older adults in our country. These essential programs include home delivered meals, congregant meals, transportation, caregiver support, and senior centers. The survey obtains performance outcome information, identifies service gaps, and supports program improvements. Policymakers and advocates rely on data to ensure OAA programs are meeting their goals without leaving anyone out.
The National Survey started collecting data on LGBT program recipients in 2014, and continued to do so in both 2015 and 2016 (available on file with CAP). HHS’ proposed 2017 protocol, publicly announced on March 13, omits the survey’s only question about sexual orientation and gender identity. Despite the fact that LGBT people have been erased from the survey, the notice announcing the proposed survey alleges that “no changes” were made to the survey.
LGBT older adults face acute levels of economic insecurity, social isolation, and discrimination—including difficulty accessing critical aging services and supports. Data on LGBT program recipients would help HHS ensure its programs are meeting the need of LGBT seniors. By rolling back data collection on LGBT people, HHS is giving up the tools it needs to ensure its effectively and equitably reaching all elders, including LGBT elders.
Ending data collection on LGBT people with disabilities
The Trump administration is also targeting LGBT individuals with disabilities, removing questions on LGBT identities from the Annual Program Performance Report for Centers for Independent Living. A proposed redesign of the performance report was issued in January 2017 and did include questions about sexual orientation and gender identity; however, a revised version, issued in March 2017, omits these questions.
The Annual Report helps HHS evaluate the effectiveness and equity of programs designed to serve people with disabilities and ensure they can live independently in their homes and communities. Available research suggests that LGBT people, especially LGBT older adults, face significant barriers to accessibility services. For this reason, it is particularly concerning that HHS is abdicating its responsibility to ensure the programs it funds equitably serve LGBT people with disabilities.
Why data matters
Data on LGBT program recipients could reveal disparities in how these HHS programs—which provide a critical safety net for to seniors and people with disabilities—serve LGBT people, potentially indicating discrimination or other barriers to access in the programs. By rolling back data collection, the Department of Health and Human Services is throwing away the tools to ensure the department reaches vulnerable LGBT people in programs ranging from home delivered meals and senior center group meals, to transportation, caregiver support, and health promotion services.
Federal data collection on LGBT people is already scarce, but rolling back collection on crucial safety net programs is particularly disturbing. LGBT people experience overt and systematic discrimination across all areas of life—from education to housing, healthcare, employment, and the public square. As a result, LGBT people face acute levels of income insecurity, making it particularly important that federal safety net programs meet the needs of the LGBT community.
By removing this data, the Department of Health and Human Services and Secretary Price risk erasing the experiences LGBT seniors and people with disabilities and making it impossible for HHS to identify and end disparities and discrimination in taxpayer-funded programs.
Sejal Singh is the Campaigns and Communications Manager for the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Laura E. Durso is the Vice President of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at American Progress. Aaron Tax is the director of federal government relations for Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders.