Mother uses her hand to hold her baby’s tiny hand to make him feeling her love, warm and secure. Newborn.
The state’s operating budget is showing progress in the areas of infant supports, including a housing pilot program to benefit pregnant people and even doula services, but a bipartisan duo in the Ohio House wants to do better.
State Reps. Andrea White, R-Kettering, and Latyna Humphrey, D-Columbus, joined with advocacy groups on Tuesday to talk about House Bill 7, with supporters heading straight to a proponent hearing immediately following the press conference on the bill.
White and Humphrey introduced the bill to the House Families and Aging Committee on April 25, but as the budget process continues with various appropriations showing up and being revised from the governor’s initial executive proposal, White said it’s important to keep up with funding, especially when it comes to Ohio’s infants and mothers.
“Ohio’s doing very well, but we’re not going to accept no for an answer,” White said.
HB 7 has provisions to support doula services, pregnancy and postpartum individuals, children and families in poverty, early intervention, child care, a cost savings study for the Medicaid program and the Head Start Program.
“The initiatives in this bill will support and empower families … and establish systemic changes that will remove barriers to services and reduce administrative burden to both programs and the state,” said Julie Stone, executive director of the Ohio Head Start Association.
The legislators and groups supporting the legislation pointed to widely reported statistics showing Ohio as one of the lowest-succeeding in the country when it comes to infant mortality, with 1 out of 150 babies unable to live to see their first birthday, and the infant mortality rate at 14.1 per 1,000 births for Black babies in Ohio, and 5.5 per 1,000 for white babies.
“In this case, if we do not invest now, there will not be an opportunity, for many, for us to pay later because we are losing too many lives,” White said.
Improving supports for the doula program in Ohio has been an ongoing struggle, with various bills attempting to bring funding to the effort, including one currently sitting in the Ohio Senate.
In HB 7, like similar legislation attempted in the past, the Ohio Board of Nursing would be required to establish a registry of certified doulas, a Doula Advisory Board would be established within the board of nursing, and the Department of Medicaid would house a program to cover doula services through a Medicaid provider agreement.
Doula programs have frequently asked for Medicaid reimbursement to be a part of the resources they can access, since many programs are using their own funds or that of donors to provide pregnancy-related services and education.
“The doula programs are clearly one of the more outstanding programs we have seen in this nation,” said Angela Dawson, executive director for the Ohio Commission on Minority Health.
The doula programs already work to improve pregnancy outcomes throughout the state with 12 “infant mortality hubs” funded throughout the state as well, according to Dawson. But full investment into doula services could actually end up saving the state money through avoidance of complications in pregnancy, and raising the state’s ranking when it comes to infant mortality.
“The reality is that Ohio has never achieved the infant mortality goal for African American babies, we have an opportunity before us … let our vote prepare the state for the children,” Dawson said.
The current draft of the budget, which is still up for approval in the Ohio Senate, includes $16 million in funding for the Healthy Beginnings at Home program, a research study that tests the impacts of rental assistance and housing services on infant mortality.
Under HB 7, the program would receive $15 million more in fiscal year 2024 “to support stable housing initiatives for pregnant mothers and to improve maternal and infant health outcomes,” according to an analysis by the Legislative Service Commission, and $1 million in both 2024 and 2025 for the Move to Prosper program, “which makes affordable rental housing available in neighborhoods that offer access to opportunities.”
Amy Riegel, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, said the funding would allow them to expand the study to more areas in the state, and “make it a statistically significant study that can be replicated” nationally.
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