For many Americans who have lost jobs or had their income reduced due to COVID-19, the extension or end of social distancing measures may mean the start of another challenging chapter for which one-time cash payments of $1200 will be insufficient, says Assistant Professor Reginald Tucker-Seeley, the Edward L. Schneider Chair in Gerontology at the USC Leonard Davis School.
“The way people feel about their financial situation and how they cope with the substantial reduction, or elimination, of their usual source of household income can have profound effects on health and well-being,” he says.
Tucker-Seeley has developed a model for measuring financial hardship that includes more than bank account balances. He argues that interventions to help people stay healthy must consider additional factors, like the physical and mental toll of the stress they feel and the coping behaviors they adopt when money is tight.
“Coping responses could be people not buying or taking less of their medications,” he says. “If families don’t have sufficient financial resources, they begin making tradeoffs; the challenge is ensuring that those trade-offs are not harmful to their health.”
Tucker-Seeley is considering several research efforts to better understand the pandemic’s impact on financial wellbeing. For one study, he is collaborating with a group of physicians to track financial hardship for those who contracted the novel coronavirus.
“Are there any subsequent hospital visits or doctor visits that have to happen? Are there medications that one has to take after being exposed? When can people go back to work after they recover? Will the economy be up and running again for people to go back to work?” he says. “These are all questions we don’t know the implications of, and the answers will greatly determine how people fare.”
Another potential area of research is related to the CARES Act, which provides additional funding for aging-related services. Tucker-Seeley intends to review COVID-19 related policies and legislation to determine how the additional funds are distributed and whether these funds are used to reduce health disparities – and not exacerbate them.
Based on data showing that African Americans are dying from COVID-19 at much higher rates, Tucker-Seeley is interested in tracking whether resources from the CARES Act will target communities that are struggling to manage the virus the most.
“It can be challenging to develop policies that not only address overall health, but also reduce disparities for vulnerable populations,” he says. “After the threat of the virus recedes, we must monitor the longer-term implications of COVID-19 to ensure that individuals and families who still may not have recovered, either physically, mentally or financially, have all the supports they need.”