California Law Aims at Reducing Black Maternal and Infant Mortality

By Vanguard Staff

Sacramento, CA – Governor Gavin Newsom on Monday signed SB 65, authored by Senator Nancy Skinner.  SB 65, “the California Momnibus Act,” is aimed at reducing maternal and infant mortality that is disproportionately impacting Black families and other families of color. SB 65 will require the California Department of Public Health to investigate maternal and infant deaths and strengthen research and data collection on racial, socio-economic and other factors that contribute to these deaths and poor health outcomes.

“Every individual deserves to have a healthy pregnancy and birth, and this bill will help make this a reality for more California families,” said Governor Newsom. “It is unacceptable that the maternal and infant mortality rate among Black and Indigenous communities remains significantly higher than the state average. California is committed to tackling discrimination and disparity whenever and wherever it occurs and with today’s signing, we’re doubling down on our commitment to both reproductive and racial justice.”

“Gov. Newsom’s signing of SB 65, the California Momnibus Act, represents a significant victory for Black maternal and infant health. Despite our medical advances, more babies and mothers die during birth in the U.S. than in all other high-income countries, and these preventable deaths are disproportionately higher for Black families,” said Senator Skinner, who is vice chair of the Legislative Women’s Caucus. “With the enactment of SB 65, California will help close racial disparities in maternal and infant deaths and save lives.”

“California is at the forefront of a movement addressing maternal deaths and severe injury, but we know there is a long way to go, particularly when it comes to tackling the egregious death rates of Black mommas. Every journey starts with a first step, and today’s step is critical. With this signature, California re-imagines maternal care for our most vulnerable pregnant folk while setting the bar for the rest of the country,” said Nourbese Flint, executive director of Black Women for Wellness Action Project.

“By passing the California Momnibus bill, our state is making a down payment on the investment needed to correct the disparities Black and Indigenous birthing people have faced for too long,” said Jen Flory, policy advocate, Western Center on Law & Poverty.

SB 65 was developed in partnership with Black Women for Wellness Action Project and the Western Center on Law and Poverty, with the support of the March of Dimes, California Nurse Midwives Association, NARAL Pro-Choice California, the National Health Law Program, and a coalition of over 50 organizations.

SB 65 is part of a national effort to eliminate our country’s high Black maternal and infant mortality rates and complements the federal Black Maternal Momnibus Act of 2021, co-sponsored by over 80 members of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, including California Senate District 9’s own Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), as well as The Kira Johnson Act, introduced by U.S. Sen. Alex Padilla (D-CA).

SB 65 won bipartisan approval from the California state Senate on Sept. 10 on a vote of 31-5, after it garnered unanimous approval — 77-0 — from the state Assembly.

Earlier this year, key elements of SB 65 were included in the state budget including increased grants for low-income pregnant people on CalWORKs, a Guaranteed Income Pilot program, Medi-Cal coverage for doula services, and full-scope Medi-Cal coverage for birthing parents 12 months post-partum. SB 65 also establishes an implementation workgroup to maximize the reach of these new benefits into the communities where they are needed most.

Each year, an estimated two-thirds of the pregnancy-related deaths in the United States are considered preventable, according to a recent report. Research points to structural racism and other socio-economic factors as playing key roles in causing racial and geographic disparities in birthing outcomes.

Although California’s infant mortality rate is lower than the national average, Black babies die at a rate more than double the state average. Mortality rates for Native American infants are also higher than the state norm. Death rates for Black pregnant and postpartum Californians are more than three times the state average.

SB 65, which takes effect Jan. 1, 2022, will:

  • Codify and expand California’s Pregnancy-Associated Mortality Review Committee to investigate maternal mortality and morbidity and make recommendations on best practices to reduce maternal and infant deaths.
  • Update data collection and protocols for counties participating in the Fetal and Infant Mortality Review Process and require counties meeting specified criteria to participate.
  • Clarify that pregnant people are exempt from CalWORKs welfare-to-work requirements.
  • Build the midwifery workforce by establishing a fund for midwife training programs that prioritize admitting underrepresented groups and those from underserved communities.
  • Establish a stakeholder workgroup to aid in the implementation the new Medi-Cal doula benefit set to start next year.

Aspects of the California Momnibus Act that were included in the Budget Act of 2021, enacted earlier this year:

  • Expanding eligibility for CalWORKs grants to pregnant people regardless of the requirement that they report which trimester their pregnancy is in and simplifying the verification process.
  • Increasing the pregnancy basic needs payment for pregnant CalWORKs recipients to $100 per month (it was $47).
  • Adding doula care to eligible Medi-Cal Services.
  • Extending full scope Medi-Cal to a birthing parent for 12 months postpartum.
  • Including pregnant people as a priority for the state’s Guaranteed Income Pilot funded in the budget.

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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