Infant health should be budget priority, advocates say (Ohio Capital Journal)

By: Susan Tebben Access article


Advocates are looking to the Ohio Senate to prioritize child welfare issues, such as infant health, child care and reducing youth incarceration as they work toward passage of the state operating budget.


Members of child welfare organizations across the state are encouraged by continued investments in local support programs addressing poverty and child care that are currently in the budget, but say more money could be directed to the issues.


“Our budget is a moral document, it is a direct reflection of what we prioritize as a state,” said Tracy Najera, executive director of the Children’s Defense of Ohio, in a recent meeting of the Ohio Children’s Budget Coalition.


Kelsey Hopkins, policy associate for early learning and child health care organization Groundwork Ohio, said the state can always do better when it comes to infant and maternal mortality.


“Our state’s persistent infant and maternal mortality crises are a tragedy for families and communities,” Hopkins said.


Pregnancy-related deaths in the state, particularly among Black women, have consistently been an issue, with 57% of pregnancy-related deaths in the state considered preventable, according to Hopkins.


Deaths of pregnant Black women represented 34% of all deaths in pregnancy, while only representing 17% of births, and Black babies are more than 2.5 times more likely to die before their first birthday compared with white babies, she said.


To help address the issue even more, Groundwork is promoting increased investments in Ohio’s Help Me Grow program, which helps women with in-home and other pregnancy-related care. Hopkins said an additional $1.9 million in fiscal year 2023 would help another 1,000 women and children in the biennium.


With a federal match possible from the latest COVID-19 stimulus package, Hopkins said Medicaid increases for postpartum coverage are also possible, which could help thousands more women if the Medicaid eligibility for postpartum care is expanded from the current 60 days to 12 months.


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