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California to receive $19.2-million federal boost for maternal, child health programs

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California’s home visiting programs for parents and children will receive a $19.2-million federal funding boost, U.S. officials announced Friday.

The home visiting programs teach parenting skills, provide information on safe sleep positions, injury prevention and nutrition and screening young children for developmental delays. They also help refer parents for help with addiction, family violence and postpartum depression.

The California Department of Public Health oversees 23 home visiting programs statewide, and during the 2018-19 fiscal year completed 29,626 home visits and served 2,979 women and 2,318 children, according to an agency report.

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A majority of the women served in the program are using Medi-Cal, the state’s insurance for low-income and disabled people and have household incomes under 50% of the federal poverty line, according to agency data.

“We know that many mothers and their children don’t receive the care they need to stay healthy throughout their lives,” said Diana Espinosa, the acting administrator for the federal Health Resources and Services Administration. “These programs allow us to better tackle the root causes of these challenges and improve access to care for pregnant women, parents, and infants.”

U.S. maternal mortality rates are among the highest in the developed world, and they are especially high among Black and Native American women — regardless of their income or education levels, according to the Department of Health and Human Services.

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The federal announcement comes a week after the California Legislature approved Senate Bill 65, which would update data collection and protocols for counties participating in the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Process and establish a fund for midwife training programs that prioritizes admitting underrepresented groups.

The bill also pushed for adding doula care to eligible Medi-Cal Services and extending Medi-Cal benefits to a birthing parent for 12 months postpartum. Gov. Gavin Newsom has not signed SB 65.

“California is failing birthing moms and babies — particularly those of color,” Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), author of SB 65, said in a news release. “Infant and maternal mortality is higher in the U.S. than in all other high-income countries. These are preventable deaths and we can and must do better.”

Under the allocation announced Friday, Project Concern International in San Diego and Alameda County will each receive $125,000 for their respective Healthy Start Initiative programming, which includes working with pregnant people before and after giving birth to help reduce infant mortality and pregnancy complications.

The $19.2 million for California is part of a $350-million HHS initiative nationwide to bolster home visiting services for families.

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