19 Senators Urge Trump's HHS to Restore LGBT Questions to Elder Surveys

by Chris Johnson, Washington Blade

A bipartisan group of 19 senators led by Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Robert Casey (D-Pa.) are calling on the Department of Health & Human Services to restore LGBT questions to a federal survey intended to evaluate government services for older Americans.

In a two-page letter dated April 27, Collins, chair of the U.S. Senate Special Commission on Aging, and Casey, the top Democrat, lead other senators in saying the Trump administration's removal of the questions "will limit HHS's ability" to evaluate whether federal programs are reaching LGBT elders effectively.

"Sexual orientation and gender identity questions on these surveys were designed to ensure that vital services were reaching vulnerable LGBT Americans," the letter says. "By rolling back data collection, it is possible that the needs of millions of Americans go unmet."

Much to the dismay of LGBT advocacy groups, the Trump administration indicated last month it would remove questions seeking to identify the sexual orientation of respondents from the National Survey of Older Americans Act Participants, or NSOAAP. (A Federal Register notice indicating the survey would not be changed, although an examination of proposals reveals the questions are removed.)

At the time, HHS said the LGBT questions were part of a pilot test and removed because the sample response "has not been sufficient enough to date to allow for reliability and reporting."

According to the letter, HHS also proposed similar revisions for its Centers of Independent Living Annual Performance Report survey. An initial draft included a questions on sexual orientation and the option to identify as transgender, but those questions were moved in the current draft in the only noticeable change, according to the letter.

The senators urge HHS to reinstate the questions "to ensure that key programs for older Americans and people with disabilities are meeting the needs of the LGBT community." They also seek a staff briefing on the decision to remove the LGBT questions no later than May 5

An HHS spokesperson confirmed the department has received the letter, but defended the decision to remove the LGBT questions from the federal health surveys.

"Under the Paperwork Reduction Act, making a survey longer or requesting highly personal information can only be justified if the data the additional questions will generate are required by law or can be expected to help us conduct necessary oversight for the program," the spokesperson said. "Given that the questions weren't generating reliable data, they did not meet that standard. Consequently, the questions are not included in the proposed 2017 surveys, which are currently published in the Federal Register for public comment."

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association.This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National Gay Media Association.
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