WASHINGTON, D.C. [08/12/20]—In an effort to address the expected increase in social isolation and loneliness amongst older adults due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, U.S. Senator Tina Smith and U.S. Representative David Trone (Md.-6) introduced bicameral legislation to help older adults remain safe, socially connected and healthy. The Strengthening Social Connections Act of 2020 would provide emergency supplemental funding to programs that strengthen social connectedness and address the negative health effects of social isolation in the Older Americans Act (OAA).
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, more than 8 million older Americans already experienced social isolation, and nearly half of older adults felt isolated, alone, or left out. Due to the heightened risk of developing severe health complications from COVID-19, older Americans have been advised to remain home, avoid social contact with family and friends, and have groceries and vital medications delivered. These social distance measures will help protect the health of vulnerable older adults while easing the burden on our nation’s health systems. But unfortunately, experts believe that social distancing will also lead to increased social isolation and loneliness amongst older adults.
“Seniors need to be connected to their communities in order to be healthy. But during COVID-19, so many people—especially seniors—are feeling lonely and disconnected,” said Sen. Smith, a member of the Senate Health Committee. “I was working to address social isolation and loneliness among seniors long before this public health crisis since we already knew that more than 8 million older Americans experienced social isolation prior to COVID-19. This is a serious public health problem because older adults who lack social connectedness are at risk of negative mental and physical health outcomes. Congress needs to support this bill and prioritize the well-being of older Americans.”
“Older Americans across the country are struggling with loneliness from the COVID-19 pandemic, isolating themselves from their communities to stay safe,” said Congressman David Trone. “The Strengthening Social Connections Act will prioritize the mental and physical wellbeing of older Americans by providing resources to help them remain healthy and connected. I’d like to thank Senator Tina Smith for working with me on this much-needed effort.”
“We commend Senator Smith for her leadership and attention to the dual epidemics of social isolation and hunger facing millions of our nation’s older adults. For most of us, our own experiences with isolation during this pandemic have reinforced the power and importance of human connection. The Strengthening Social Connections Act would help combat isolation and loneliness among older adults for whom living homebound and alone is a way of life, and are issues that, when unaddressed, often lead to greater and unnecessary healthcare expenses.” – Ellie Hollander, President and CEO, Meals on Wheels America
Specifically, the bill would provide:
- $80 million for home and community-based services for older adults, with a focus on activities to prevent and mitigate the negative health effects of social isolation, including the purchase of technology.
- $18 million to enhance outreach to older adults and provide technical assistance to help area agencies on aging, aging services providers, and nutrition providers reduce the negative health effects of social isolation and loneliness among older adults.
- $6 million to address the health effects of social isolation on minority aging populations.
Older adults who lack social connectedness are at risk of negative mental and physical health outcomes, with mortality rates comparable with the risks of smoking, obesity, and air pollution. In fact, socially isolated seniors face a 29 percent increased risk of mortality. Beyond the negative mental and physical health effects of loneliness, social isolation has economic consequences. Federal spending is $134 more per person per month for every socially isolated older adult.5 This is comparable to Medicare spending on chronic conditions.
The Strengthening Social Connections Act of 2020 is supported by: SAGE (Advocacy and Services for LGBT Elders), National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), Meals on Wheels America, and the Coalition to End Social Isolation & Loneliness.
You can read a summary of the bill here.