Cash for Flint mothers. Mott to offer up to $7500 to help baby’s first year
- Beginning in 2024, Flint moms — whatever their income — will get a $1,500 payment mid-pregnancy, then another $500 monthly for the first year after the baby is born
- They can spend the money however they want
- The aim is to reduce the stress of poverty for the developing child
Expectant- and new moms in Flint will be “prescribed” up to $7,500 in cash as a way to help boost their infant’s footing in the first year of life.
It is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the Flint-based Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, which will grant up to $15 million over three years to Michigan State University to support the program, Rx Kids.
The payments that will begin in 2024 are a first step, and Mott hopes that other funding will extend the program to five years for the children.
[Disclosure: The Charles Stewart Mott Foundation is a funder to The Center for Michigan, Bridge Michigan's parent organization. Mott had no roll in the reporting, editing or content of this report.]
“We think that this is going to give people hope, and give people joy, and allow them to once again believe in that social contract between government and institutions and themselves,” said Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, who will oversee the program. Her testing revealed in 2015 that Flint children were being exposed to dangerously high levels of lead in the water and she later wrote a book on the experience.
The crisis underscored the need to focus on prevention and resilience in a city wracked by the pervasive stresses of poverty, the MSU pediatrician said.
“We need to do a better job of prevention — not only preventing water crises, but preventing things that are just as toxic, like poverty,” Hanna-Attisha said. “It’s important to build resilient communities so that kids can just be kids.”
Mothers will receive direct cash payments during pregnancy and throughout the first year of a child’s life, including a one-time $1,500 payment to expectant mothers in mid-pregnancy.
That payment will be followed by $500 per month for the first year of a child’s life.
According to five-year estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 American Community Survey, about half of the more than 20,000 children live in poverty in Flint, a city that has been pummeled by staggering job and population losses in recent years.
And in some Flint neighborhoods, the poverty rate for kids under age 5 exceeds 80 percent, according to Mott. This high degree of poverty can impact a child’s development, especially during the first years of their lives.
A growing body of research has shown that “toxic stress” changes the architecture of a developing brain, raising the odds of poor physical and mental health, increasing the odds of chronic illnesses, including heart disease, substance abuse, and depression. But other research has also shown that parents and communities, and even pediatricians, can buffer the impact of toxic stress.
Unconditional cash, trust
While the new Flint program will be focused on poverty and addressing health inequities, all pregnant women and infants who live in the city — regardless of income — will be eligible. Families will spend the money in whatever way they think is best — a critical component of the program, said Hanna-Attisha, who founded the MSU-Hurley Children’s Hospital Pediatric Public Health Initiative, a collaboration between the University, the hospital, Flint families and community groups, focused on Flint children’s health.
Parents generally spend money in ways “to support their kids and to create a nutrient-rich environment — stable housing, food for the family paying rent and you know, the mortgage, utilities, and gas,” Hanna-Attisha said.
All that provides “this extra cushion,” she said.
Hanna-Attisha cited an analysis by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan but left-leaning research analysis organization. The Center showed nine of ten families receiving federal tax assistance through the federal Child Tax Credit payments use the money for “basic household expenses — food, clothing, shelter, and utilities — and education.”
The no-strings-attached policy in Flint, therefore, is intentional, said Hanna-Attisha.
“This is unconditional on purpose because it signals that we trust our families, that this is about dignity and choice … and that we're all kind of walking alongside you,” she said, of the payments.
Ridgway White, Mott Foundation president and CEO, agreed. “All parents make the decisions that are best for them and their families. We need to be agnostic on that. And we know that people have different demands in life that have to be met.”
In a statement earlier, he lauded the program for “the boldness of its approach” in addressing childhood poverty.
The Rx Kids program also has a research arm, gathering data to determine the impact of the cash payments on the city’s poverty rates, prenatal and early childhood care. It also will measure families’ trust in government and health care institutions, and whether it changes civic engagement, Hanna-Attisha said.
The $15 million from Mott is a challenge grant that becomes available for the program once Rx Kids raises an additional $15 million from other sources. Hanna-Attisha and others hope for additional public and private funding. All told, the Rx program would cost an estimated $55 million to extend the support and research to participating children's fifth birthday.
MSU plans to begin enrollment for the program in 2024 with the intent of continuing the initiative for at least five birth years of expectant mothers and newborns.
[An earlier version of this article misstated the size of the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation grant. It is $15 million.]
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