Philadelphia to pilot a guaranteed income program to reduce rates of infant mortality

By: Ximena Conde

See original post here.

Nia Samuels’ second pregnancy came at a time of turmoil. Her partner got laid off, forcing the family to move for work in April 2020, then Samuels’ father died of COVID-19. Samuels said she experienced depression and had a pregnancy that made her sick.

Seeking help, she connected to programs that helped her with emotional support, diapers, and, more important, small cash payments from a Philadelphia Community Action Network program — no strings attached.

Samuels described these payments as a lifeline. They reduced the amount of stress she was under, which experts say can help improve maternal and infant health.

“It was really helpful to know that if there was a small emergency — something broke someone’s sick, something happens — we had the ability to handle it,” she said.

Hoping to reduce racial disparities in infant mortality, Philadelphia hopes to pilot a monthly guaranteed income for 250 expectant mothers in Cobbs Creek, Strawberry Mansion, and Nicetown-Tioga — neighborhoods with the highest rates of low birth weight. But those at the helm say they need additional funding to get across the finish line.The program will be called the Philly Joy Bank.

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health aims to begin the program in early 2024, having already secured more than $3 million in contributions from the William Penn Foundation and Spring Point Partners. The Philly Joy Bank will offer $1,000 monthly cash payments for a total of 18 months, including a year postpartum.

Additionally, interested participants will be offered financial counseling, lactation support, and doulas.

“We are looking to raise a total of $6 million, so this is our callout to potential funders looking to support our pregnant people and their babies,” said Stacey Kallem, director of the health department’s division of maternal, child, and family health, announcing the pilot at City Hall on Monday.

The pilot is a partnership between the health department and the Philadelphia Community Action Network, a group including parents like Samuels, researchers, and doctors, working to reduce racial disparities in infant mortality.

Pregnant people must have a household income of less than $100,000 annually to be eligible.

“We know that being able to better support pregnant people and new parents helps keep babies alive,” said Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Black infants were more than three times more likely to die before their first birthday than white infants between 2017 and 2020. When stacked against the country’s 10 most populated cities, Philadelphia holds the highest rate of infant mortality during a child’s first year of life.

Bettigole said the pilot draws on the successes of other no-strings-attached guaranteed income projects. In California, four counties are offering cash payment to pregnant Black people. New York City has launched a similar program in a handful of Manhattan neighborhoods.

In addition to more funders, the city and CAN are looking for a partner to evaluate how the pilot affects maternal and infant health.

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