Although many think of infant mortality as a problem of the past, the issue is all too current for the city of Philadelphia. That’s why there’s a new program in the city that aims to combat the issues that can contribute to infant mortality.
The Philadelphia Department of Public Health has secured $3 million in funding from donors for The Philly Joy Bank, a program that will pay pregnant women $1,000 per month for the duration of their pregnancy starting at six months on, continuing for one year after the baby is born. That money can pay for doctor’s visits, for healthy food, for medicine — for just about anything, as there are no strings attached to the money. The program provides other assistance geared towards supporting mothers, babies, and families, too, such as financial counseling, voluntary home visits, and lactation support.
The goal of the program is to alleviate financial stressors and assist with daily needs – two stressful factors that contribute to prematurity and low birth weight. To qualify, a family has to make less than $100,000 and live in three particular areas of the city that have lowest birth weights: the neighborhoods of Cobbs Creek, Strawberry Mansion, and Nicetown-Tioga.
The city of Philadelphia has a particular need for this kind of program. According to the Center for Disease Control, the city has the highest rate of infant mortality in the entire U.S., and a 2020 city report found that infant deaths accounted for 55% of all child deaths from 2011-2017. Even worse off were black infants, who are three times more likely to die than white infants. Many of the problems these babies face in their first year of life stem from preterm birth and low birth weight, something that health department commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole felt could be helped right away.
“Infant mortality in Philadelphia is a solvable crisis,” said Bettigole in a statement. “We know that being able to better support pregnant people and new parents helps keep babies alive. As the poorest big city in the country, this is not always easy, especially in areas of the city that are being crushed by generational poverty and systemic racism. The Philly Joy Bank draws on the successes of other no-strings-attached guaranteed income projects to help break those cycles. We could not be more pleased to have generous donors like the William Penn Foundation and Spring Point Partners helping to kickstart this wonderful program.”
Director of the Philadelphia Division of Maternal, Child, and Family Health Dr. Stacey Kallem pointed out that the program is different from other assistance, such as SNAP or WIC, as it is not limited to any one specific need. “You have to go to one place if you need food, you have to send out a different application for heat or utilities,” Kallem said to WHYY. “The beauty of guaranteed income is it gives residents the flexibility to address their problems as they need to in the moment without all of that red tape of having to navigate different systems.”
The program still requires some funding, which they hope to secure before the expected rollout in 2024. “We are looking to raise a total of $6 million, so this is our callout to potential funders looking to support our pregnant people and their babies,” said Kallem to the Philadelphia Inquirer.
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