Delaware’s program is different in that the money is just going to those who are pregnant with low-income in targeted ZIP codes. The state’s program is being funded with a combination of federal pandemic relief dollars and staff from the state Division of Public Health.
The initiative is being overseen by the Delaware Healthy Mother and Infant Consortium, whose mission is to reduce infant and maternal mortality and improve the health of new moms and babies.
Delaware’s infant mortality rate was one of the highest in the nation two decades ago, but efforts to reduce it have paid off, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In 2005, Delaware infant mortality was the nation’s fifth highest, with 9.02 deaths per 1,000 live births. In 2021, the last year for which CDC data is available, Delaware’s rate had fallen to 4.77, and ranked 35th of the 50 states.
‘It’s going to require a replenishment of funds’
Beyond agreeing to participate in program evaluations every three months, the new moms were also offered wraparound services, such as case management, financial coaching, assistance with securing affordable housing, and help keeping their jobs or getting one.
Rodriguez said she benefited from financial coaching and was even able to get postpartum therapy to aid her in the early stages of motherhood.
The program also helped several women apply for and obtain other government benefits such as SNAP, formerly known as food stamps, and the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program that provides money for formula and other foods for mothers during pregnancy and for children up to age 5.
Dr. Priscilla Mpasi, a pediatrician who chairs the consortium, says the program has been a rousing success for the moms and babies while injecting money into the economies of low-income neighborhoods. She said fewer mothers reported going to the emergency room or staying in the hospital than in the year before they began receiving the monthly payment and using other services.
“So that’s decreasing costs on one end,’’ Mpasi said. “From a public health standpoint, we now have mothers that have gone through the program that have developed financial literacy, that have received stable housing, that have food access, and that’s a win on the public health side.”
Mpasi isn’t content with the program only being a pilot. “So the next step is scaling it,’’ she said. “It was only 40 women. How do we now get to 400? How do we scale up even more than that? It’s going to require a replenishment of funds.”
That, however, would take a commitment by the state government and lawmakers to commit millions of dollars to a Guaranteed Basic Income program, or securing federal or philanthropic dollars to pay the stipend. The two-year pilot cost $480,000, but providing the same stipend to 400 pregnant women would cost $4.8 million over two years, plus support services.
Leah Woodall, section chief for the Family Health Systems unit of the Division of Public Health, said the pilot program has achieved “good strong results” on both the health and financial fronts, and hopes policymakers and lawmakers take notice.
She said almost all of the women accessed prenatal care while receiving the $1,000 monthly stipend and only a handful of the 40 babies had any birth complications.
“That’s amazing,’’ Woodall said. “Certainly we saw strong health outcomes based on those two data points. So I’m really happy to see that.”
‘Maybe there’s a better way to accomplish these goals’
State Sen. Bryant Richardson, a Republican who represents the Seaford area of southwestern Delaware and sits on the consortium, said he supports helping low-income pregnant women, particularly as an alternative to abortion.
“I understand there are some people that do face some dire situations, that they don’t have the the revenue they need to to be able to take care of themselves adequately,’’ Richardson said. “I”m certainly in favor of anything that will encourage pregnant women to give birth and if this is what it takes for those who are below the poverty level, then I don’t want to discourage that.”
But Richardson said he isn’t ready to support an expansion, and questions an assertion by the consortium that the program has achieved a 324% return on investment. That calculation is based on estimates of the additional government benefits, salaries from their jobs, housing that has been secured, reductions in medical costs, and a so-called “multiplier effect” on how the money moves through the economy.
Richardson said he doesn’t think the financial impact numbers “add up” and he plans to raise the issue at the next consortium meeting.
“The only thing I want to do is make sure the numbers work and maybe there’s a better way to accomplish the same goals,’’ Richardson said. “I certainly think there is potential to do some good through this program. I just want to dig a little deeper.”