judge gavel
50 years of making a difference
by Kristin Easterling

Seniors can face multiple hurdles to aging safely and comfortably at home. Low-income seniors, seniors of color and seniors who are LGTBQ are even more vulnerable due to systematic issues that affect housing and food security, among other areas.

Justice in Aging, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, is a nonprofit senior legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty at the state and federal level, bringing litigation when advocacy fails. The organization also provides training for attorneys that work in elder justice issues.

“Justice in Aging has litigated and won cases over the years that have returned billions of dollars in wrongfully denied or discontinued benefits to low-income older adults and people with disabilities,” said Vanessa Barrington, director of communications and individual giving. "The organization has also secured access to home- and community-based services for low-income seniors, keeping people out of institutions."

Barrington added that many people are forced into institutional care who don’t want it because of difficulties accessing in-home care. “It often depends on where you live, how much money you have, or whether or not you have the knowledge and privilege to navigate the system,” she said.

Founded in 1972 as the National Senior Citizens Law Center, the organization changed its name to Justice in Aging in 2015 to better reflect its mission and values. According to the organization’s website, Justice in Aging strives for “the opportunity to live with dignity, regardless of financial circumstances—free from the worry, harm and injustice caused by lack of health care, food or a safe place to sleep.”

While the organization has always been aimed at helping low-income seniors age with dignity, in 2020, the organization shifted its focus to place diversity, equity and inclusion at the heart of its mission, launching the Advancing Equity Initiative to ensure all of the group’s advocacy is oriented toward pursuing changes in law and policy that improve the lives of older adults “who are most impacted by racism, ageism, sexism, ableism, homophobia and xenophobia,” said Barrington.

“As the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded, it became crystal clear just how deeply embedded inequities are across all systems of our society. Unequal access to health care, discrimination and implicit bias in the delivery of care, decades of economic oppression and inequitable government policies have placed many older adults from communities of color at a disproportionate risk of contracting and dying from COVID-19,” said Barrington.

She added that home- and community-based service providers can advance equity in their businesses by providing person-centered care that honors the person’s wishes, including accommodating food preferences. “Equity is about seeing the person as a whole person and accepting them as they are,” she said.

For 2022, the organization is continuing its work with Congress to invest in the homecare infrastructure, expand Medicare benefits and improve the Supplemental Security Income program. The organization has also started working in the affordable housing arena and is connecting older adults reentering society after incarceration with the benefits and services they need to live in their communities.

“We are building a future where we can all experience justice as we age,” said Barrington, looking toward the next 50 years. “We look forward to the day when all older adults—including older adults of color, LGBTQ older adults, immigrants and others who have been systematically denied access to health care, housing, economic security and the opportunity to participate fully in our society—will able to live and age in dignity.”

Kristin Easterling is managing editor of HomeCare magazine.