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Bill to Study Loneliness Among Vulnerable Populations Passes Full Assembly

With loneliness affecting three out of four Americans, a bill that would create a task force to study how social isolation and loneliness impact certain populations was passed by the full Assembly Thursday, 74-0-0.

Assembly Democrats Andrew Zwicker, Matthew Milam and Vincent Mazzeo are the sponsors of this legislation.

The measure (A-5314) would establish the New Jersey Task Force to Prevent Loneliness and Social Isolation to assess and report on the nature and frequency of social isolation in New Jersey, specifically among people aged 65 and older, individuals with disabilities, and individuals with mental illness. Other vulnerable populations, including military service members, would be included in the study as deemed appropriate.

“Social isolation is not just a social issue, but a public health concern,” said Zwicker (D-Hunterdon, Mercer, Middlesex and Somerset). “For elderly and other vulnerable and special populations, isolation can negatively impact health outcomes and lead to premature death. This task force will have the critically important work of studying this issue and how it impacts certain populations. With the research and evidence discovered as a result, we can begin to effectively address social isolation.”

The task force would consist of the following 11 members:

  • The Commissioner of Health, or designee;
  • The Commissioner of Human Services, or a designee; and
  • Nine public members: three appointed by the Governor, three appointed by the Senate President, and three appointed by the Assembly Speaker

“The task force will uncover how often the people in these groups feel isolated, the number and percentage of people in the groups who feel isolated, and the number of people in the group who are more prone to feeling isolated,” said Milam (D-Atlantic, Cape May and Cumberland). “We also need to understand the triggers that contribute to such isolation.”

The appointed public members would be professionals working in or representing organizations and agencies that provide counseling, health care, mental health care, support care, or other social or daily living assistance to members of the vulnerable populations and their caregivers.

“Many people don’t realize that loneliness really does impact health and wellness,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “It’s actually a public health issue that is linked to smoking, obesity and the risk of death in older adults.”

The task force would also identify demographic and other characteristics of the groups, symptoms and indicators of social isolation, circumstances and situations that contribute to isolation, available State resources to help the socially isolated, and trends among the socially isolated.

If signed into law, the task force would be required to prepare and submit a report to the Governor and Legislature, consisting of findings and recommendations to be published on the Department of Human Services’ website.

The bill now heads to the Senate for further consideration.