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May 13, 2020

U.S. Representative David Trone Press, U.S Senator Tina Smith To Address Social Isolation Among Seniors in Next Coronavirus Package

For Immediate Release:

Contact: Hannah Muldavin (Trone), Hannah.muldavin@mail.house.gov 

U.S. Representative David Trone Press, U.S Senator Tina Smith To Address Social Isolation Among Seniors in Next Coronavirus Package

Lawmakers Joined by House, Senate Colleagues in Push on Congressional Leaders To Keep Older Americans Connected, Safe, and Healthy in Era of Social Distancing

 

WASHINGTON, D.C. —U.S. Representative David Trone (D-MD) and U.S Senator Tina Smith (D-Minn.)—backed by several House and Senate colleagues—are leading a push to ensure the next coronavirus relief package contains provisions to help older adults stay connected and healthy at a time when they are in danger of becoming socially isolated. 

In a letter sent Tuesday, Sen. Smith, Rep. Trone and 11 Congressional colleagues told House and Senate Leaders that the COVID-19 pandemic is taking a particularly drastic, even fatal toll on older adults. They said that as seniors continue to follow life-saving physical distancing recommendations, they will need resources to allow them to remain safe, socially connected and healthy.

“During this pandemic, so many people—including seniors—are feeling lonely, worried and disconnected,” said Sen. Smith. “Seniors need to be connected to their communities in order to thrive. I’ve been working to address social isolation and loneliness among seniors long before this public health crisis created the need to physically distance from one another, and it’s especially important right now to keep working to make sure people are connected. I’m glad that Rep. Trone is a partner in this fight, and we need to make sure we have the resources to address this in the next COVID-19 package.”

“As older Americans protect their physical health by distancing from their families and communities during the COVID-19 outbreak, they become more vulnerable to loneliness and its negative effects on their mental and physical health,” said Congressman Trone. “Social isolation was already affecting seniors before the coronavirus, and now it poses an even greater risk. I want to thank Senator Smith for working together on this bicameral effort that ensures we are prioritizing the mental well-being of older Americans as we work to combat this pandemic.”

Social isolation affects more than 8 million older Americans and leaves nearly half of older adults feeling isolated, alone, or left out. Isolation can have negative consequences on the health of older adults such as mental and physical health outcomes, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Additionally, socially isolated seniors face a 29 percent increased risk of early mortality—comparable to mortality rates associated with smoking, obesity, and air pollution. Beyond the negative mental and physical health effects of loneliness, social isolation also has economic consequences. Federal Medicare spending is $134 more monthly per person for every socially isolated older adult. Lack of social contacts among older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional federal spending annually, which is comparable to Medicare spending on chronic conditions.

Sen. Smith, Rep. Trone, and their colleagues—including Sens. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Reps. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz. 3), Donna E. Shalala (D-Fl. 27), Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore. 4), Denny Heck (D-Wash. 10), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore. 1), Marcia L. Fudge (D-Ohio 11), and Alma S. Adams, Ph.D. (D-N.C. 12)—are calling for House and Senate leadership to consider including the following provisions to help keep older adults healthy, including:

1.     $12 million for the National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults, which will enhance efforts to conduct outreach to older adults;

2.      $80 million in targeted funding for the Aging Network to purchase and disseminate technology, including laptops, tablets, and assistive devices, to help low-income older adults without technology stay connected;

3.      $50 million for Older Americans Act programs to adapt existing evidence-based programs to be offered online or telephonically to reach older adults who are abruptly and unexpectedly homebound as a result of the pandemic; and

4.      $6 million for organizations contracted to run the National Minority Aging Resource Centers to address the health effects of social isolation for minority aging populations.

Earlier this year, Sen. Smith’s measures to address the negative mental and physical health effects—and the economic consequences—of social isolation among seniors, as well as efforts to strengthen grants for Tribal organizations to provide home and community-based services, were signed into law by the President as part of the Older Americans Act reauthorization. The legislation signed into law in March included provisions from Sen. Smith’s Older Americans Social Isolation and Loneliness Prevention Act, and from Sen. Smith’s bipartisan Strengthening Services for Native Elders Act with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Rep. Trone has been a leader on issues affecting older Americans. In March, the President signed into law the Protecting Older Americans from Social Isolation Act, which Trone authored. He has held multiple workshops and resource fairs for seniors in Maryland, and in December wrote about the necessity for increased funding for early onset-Alzheimer’s with former Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker.

You can read the letter here or below: 

May 12, 2020

 

The Honorable Mitch McConnell

Majority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Nancy Pelosi

Speaker

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

 

The Honorable Chuck Schumer

Minority Leader

United States Senate

Washington, DC 20510

 

The Honorable Kevin McCarthy

Minority Leader

United States House of Representatives

Washington, DC 20515

 

Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, Speaker Pelosi and Leader McCarthy, 

While public officials and public health experts urge Americans to take the necessary steps to stay at home and maintain physical distance to combat the spread of COVID-19, we have become increasingly concerned about social isolation and loneliness among older adults during this health crisis. As Congress continues to take steps in its commitment to fight the coronavirus pandemic and provide the health resources needed for all individuals, we write to urge House and Senate leadership to consider the implications of the COVID-19 pandemic on older adults and include provisions in the next coronavirus stimulus bill to address these concerns.

Social isolation affects more than 8 million older Americans and leaves nearly half of older adults feeling isolated, alone, or left out. Socially isolated seniors tend to live alone and face diminishing social circles. With a lack of social connectedness, isolation can have negative consequences on the health of older adults such as mental and physical health outcomes, including heart disease, diabetes, anxiety, and depression. Further, socially isolated seniors face a 29 percent increased risk of early mortality, which is comparable to mortality rates associated with smoking, obesity, and air pollution.

Beyond the negative mental and physical health effects of loneliness, social isolation also has economic consequences. Federal Medicare spending is $134 more monthly per person for every socially isolated older adult. Lack of social contacts among older adults is associated with an estimated $6.7 billion in additional federal spending annually, which is comparable to Medicare spending on chronic conditions.

As COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, older adults remain at heightened risk of developing severe health complications due to contracting the coronavirus. Older Americans have been asked 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. Unfortunately, experts believe that social distancing will also lead to social isolation and loneliness amongst older adults. Without the ability to physically interact with family, friends, volunteers, and others, older adults could be placed at further risk of the mental and physical health issues associated with social isolation. 

As older Americans continue to follow life-saving physical distancing recommendations, it is important that we provide the necessary resources to allow older adults to remain socially connected. We urge that House and Senate leadership consider including the following provisions to help keep older adults healthy, including:

 

1.      $12 million for the National Resource Center for Engaging Older Adults, which will enhance efforts to conduct outreach to older adults;

2.      $80 million in targeted funding for the Aging Network to purchase and disseminate technology, including laptops, tablets, and assistive devices, to help low-income older adults without technology stay connected;

3.      $50 million for Older Americans Act programs to adapt existing evidence-based programs to be offered online or telephonically to reach older adults who are abruptly and unexpectedly homebound as a result of the pandemic; and

4.      $6 million for organizations contracted to run the National Minority Aging Resource Centers to address the health effects of social isolation for minority aging populations.

The COVID-19 pandemic is taking a particularly drastic and often fatal toll on older adults. As you shape the next coronavirus relief bill, we hope that you will consider including these provisions to combat social isolation and loneliness amongst older Americans.  We appreciate your consideration and collaboration as we continue to work together to improve the quality of health care for all Americans during this public health crisis.

Sincerely,

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