Money can’t solve all problems, but we know it can solve a lot of them, and a new program in San Francisco is looking to see if it may be a solution to the problem of maternal mortality, particularly among Black and Pacific Islander mothers. Starting in 2021, the city is going to give 150 pregnant mothers a universal basic income of $1,000 until their babies are at least 6 months old.
“Pregnancy is stressful enough without having to worry about your next paycheck,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a tweet about the pilot program, called the Abundant Birth Project, on Monday.
San Francisco is a pretty ideal place to test this concept out, as Black mothers account for half of the maternal deaths and more than 15 percent of infant deaths in the city, even though they represent only 4 percent of all births, according to a press release from the mayor’s office. Black infants there are also almost twice as likely to be born prematurely compared with white infants. Pacific Islander mothers also have similarly bleak numbers. In the U.S., according to the CDC, Black mothers are three times more likely to suffer a pregnancy-related death than white mothers.
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Every time a black mama dies a feel like a piece me is gone too. Who cries for black mamas? #ShaasiaWashington was just 26 years old. She was just starting her journey and her life was taken away because of lack of care. .. She went to #Woodhull hospital for high blood pressure only for them to keep her for 2 days without any medicine. She later died while having a c-section. Sometimes I feel like this work will never be enough. It’s hard. It’s scary. But we will never stop fighting for you Sha-Asia, Kira, Amber and all the other black women we have lost. A gofundme organized for Sha-Asia’s family can be found at the link in my bio. #blacklivesmatter #maternalmortality #blackmothersmatter #wearekarasi
So, you may be wondering, what does money have to do with all this? The thing is, experts still can’t pinpoint a single cause of this disparity in risk for women of color, but they can name a number of different factors, including underlying heart disease or high-blood pressure conditions that go undetected and doctors who don’t take Black women seriously when they discuss their symptoms. We also know that a huge factor in health, and especially maternal health, is stress. And if a mother doesn’t have access to money to pay for health care, food, and shelter, let alone all the products and comforts we deem “essential” to raising a newborn, that is most certainly going to cause her stress.
“When we see these disparities in birth outcomes, a lot of times people attribute that to Black and Pacific Islander people not caring about their health or being generally in poorer health or engaging in behaviors like drinking and smoking, but the data simply doesn’t back that up,” Dr. Zea Malawa, who is leading the project at the San Francisco Department of Health, told ABC News. Studies have shown that controlling for those health and behavior factors doesn’t make much of a difference, she said.
The next logical step is to relieve their income-related stress. And though of course there are poor white mothers and rich mothers of color, systemic racism has been in place for centuries ensuring that the opposite is more often the case.
This $1,000 comes with no strings attached, no directives about diet and exercise or childbirth method. It’s not solving racism; it’s taking that particular burden off the shoulders of mothers of color so that they can focus on caring for themselves and their babies. The money is coming from a public-private partnership that includes philanthropic groups such as the Hellman Foundation and Twitter founder Jack Dorsey’s #startsmall initiative.
If this pilot is successful it can serve as a model for future programs.
Because we have to continue addressing the unacceptable disparities in our city relating to everything from public health, to education, to financial security that have continued on for way too long.
— London Breed (@LondonBreed) September 14, 2020
“Providing direct, unconditional cash aid is a restorative step that not only demonstrates trust in women to make the right choices for themselves and their families, but could also decrease the underlying stress of financial insecurity that may be contributing to the high rates of premature birth in these communities,” Malawa said in a statement.
If this project succeeds and becomes a reality for more women, it’s actually a pretty good deal for governments. Think about giving out $15,000 to a mother instead of covering medical bills that can easily be 10 times that much.
What’s also very interesting about this program is that the idea isn’t just coming from academics and medical professionals. The Abundant Birth Project recruited Black and Pacific Islander mothers helped design the pilot, and members of the community will make up the outreach team to identify the mothers who will receive the stipend.
“If this pilot is successful it can serve as a model for future programs,” Breed tweeted. “Because we have to continue addressing the unacceptable disparities in our city relating to everything from public health, to education, to financial security that have continued on for way too long.”
When those babies are a little older, they’ll love these children’s books starring boys of color.