Brown, Burr, Stabenow, Ernst Introduce Bipartisan Legislation to Renew Healthy Start Program, Reduce Infant Mortality Rate

Program Works to Reduce Racial Disparities in Birth Outcomes, Has Helped Reduce Infant Mortality Rate for Participants

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Richard Burr (R-NC), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) introduced bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Healthy Start program. Healthy Start aims to reduce the national infant mortality rate by identifying and supporting communities with infant mortality rates that are at least one and a half times the U.S. national average or increasing above the national average. Companion legislation is also being introduced in the House by U.S. Reps. Tim Ryan (D-OH-13), Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH-16), Lauren Underwood (D-IL-14) and Steve Stivers (R-OH-15).

“Despite having some of the finest doctors and best children’s hospitals in the country, Ohio still falls far short when it comes to infant mortality, ranking an abysmal 41st in the country. And we have a serious problem with racial disparities in birth outcomes – black infants die at three times the rate of white infants in Ohio, and we rank near the bottom in deaths of African American infants. We need to support our communities with the tools and resources they need to empower moms and their families,” said Senator Brown.

“North Carolina historically has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the nation,” said Senator Burr. “The Healthy Start program plays an important role in removing barriers to health care and education resources for mothers and babies in need. I am proud to work with Senators Brown, Stabenow, and Ernst on this important reauthorization to keep our children healthy, and look forward to working with my colleagues to move this important legislation through the Senate.”

“Every family deserves the care and resources they need to take care of their children, regardless of their zip code. However, infant mortality rates are too high in our country and worse for low-income areas and communities of color. The Healthy Start program offers the education, health care, and resources we need to save lives and make our communities stronger,” said Senator Stabenow.  

“Having access to health care services is something that weighs on the minds of families across Iowa, especially those expecting a little one,” said Senator Ernst. “Prenatal and post-partum care, as well as nutrition support for moms and children, are an important part of reducing infant mortality, and programs like Healthy Start are giving states like Iowa the resources needed to reduce barriers and increase access to care.”

The Healthy Start Program serves communities with high rates of poverty, low education, and limited access to care, in addition to other socioeconomic conditions. Racial and ethnic minorities experience disproportionately high rates of pre-term birth and infant death. Nationally, African American mothers die at 3-4 times the rate of white mothers, and black babies are twice as likely to die as white babies. By improving access to quality health care and services, the Healthy Start program has helped to address these disparities and reduce infant mortality rates among its program participants to 5.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which is lower than the national average.

The Healthy Start program aims to reduce the infant mortality rate by providing federal grant funding to sites providing services that focus on empowering women and their families and reducing negative birth outcomes.

The Senators’ bill, the Healthy Start Reauthorization Act, would:

  • Reauthorize the Healthy Start Program for five years (FY2020 through FY2024);
  • Encourage coordination with the community in which grantees are located and expand the criteria used to evaluate Healthy Start projects, including how projects have impacted infant mortality rates and perinatal and infant health outcomes;
  • Instruct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to issue a report detailing the allocation of the Healthy Start grants, progress in meeting the evaluation criteria, and improvements in health outcomes for program participants.

Women and their families may be enrolled into a Healthy Start program at any stage of pregnancy – pre-conception, inter-conception, and post-conception. Each enrolled family completes a comprehensive assessment that captures multiple demographics such as physical and behavioral health, housing, employment, and domestic violence risks. Healthy Start families are able to receive varying health care, and public health services, including prenatal and postpartum care, parenting skill-building, case management, and job training.

The program has grown from 15 sites providing services in 1991 to 100 sites across 37 states in 2016. The Healthy Start Reauthorization Act is supported by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

The Healthy Start Program was established as a pilot program by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 as a program of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Healthy Start is the federal government’s primary program to reduce infant mortality.

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