The Biden Administration Should Increase LGBTQ Public Benefit Access and Data Collection

By Ashley Burnside

The lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community faces nearly double the rates of poverty when compared to the general U.S. population. Over one in five LGBTQ people reported incomes under the federal poverty level in 2019. Poverty rates were even higher for the transgender community, at 29 percent. A new report authored by members of the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network, of which CLASP is a proud member, provides more details on poverty within the LGBTQ community. It outlines how the community uses public benefit programs for basic needs support. The report also offers recommendations for federal agencies to expand access to public benefits, as well as increase data about LGBTQ recipients of public benefit programs. The Biden Administration has already signed multiple executive orders that will help LGBTQ people and Congress has introduced legislation to provide federal anti-discrimination protections; we encourage policymakers to continue taking action to reduce poverty within the community.

Poverty among LGBTQ people has likely only worsened due to the COVID-19 crisis. According to the Human Rights Campaign, LGBTQ workers are likelier to be employed in industries impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, such as restaurants and food service, hospitals, and retail. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) LGBTQ people also face higher risks of being harmed by the public health crisis: communities of color have been disproportionately impacted by both the disease and the economic hardship resulting from the pandemic.

The LGBTQ community experiences such high rates of poverty due, in part, to systemic discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in sectors like employment and housing. Thankfully, President Biden signed an executive order providing anti-discrimination protections in federal law for the LGBTQ community in areas like housing, health care, and employment. The order also directs agencies to undo harmful regulations from the Trump Administration, such as a rule from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that removed anti-discrimination protections in health care for transgender patients. As another example, under Trump, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development proposed a rule to remove protections for transgender people when seeking shelter at federally funded facilities for those experiencing homelessness. Congress also recently introduced the Equality Act, which would update existing federal nondiscrimination protections to confirm that discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity is unlawful.

Poverty can also be a consequence of the rejection LGBTQ people face from their loved ones. It can cause out teenagers to be kicked out of their homes at a young age and to face higher rates of homelessness. Transgender people face even higher rates of hardship. Biden’s executive order reversing the transgender military ban pushes back against yet another example of the bigotry LGBTQ people too often face.

Although we know LGBTQ individuals experience poverty and hardship at high rates, we have little information about their use of public benefits and their experiences trying to access them. Federal public benefit programs don’t collect data based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Studies based on a private survey from the Center for American Progress do show higher rates of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) usage among the LGBTQ community. But we cannot know how our public benefit programs are serving the LGBTQ community until we have access to more specific data.

LGBTQ and anti-poverty advocates must consider the LGBTQ community’s experiences with poverty in their strategies and goals. The Biden Administration should continue reversing harmful Trump Administration rules and proposals that reduce access to public services, like health care and housing, for the LGBTQ community. Congress should pass the Equality Act to provide LGBTQ people with nondiscrimination protects in all areas of life. Federal agencies also need to start collecting data on people enrolled in public benefit programs based on factors like sexual orientation and gender identity. Doing so will help us better understand where there are gaps in access for marginalized communities. Finally, as our nation continues to recover from the public health crisis, it is essential that the LGBTQ community, especially the transgender community and BIPOC LGBTQ people, is centered in plans for healing and reform.

Read more recommendations from the National LGBTQ Anti-Poverty Action Network report.

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