$400K paid so far to 350 Flint moms in first month of pathfinding Rx Kids program

By Miriam Zayadi

More than $400,000 has been paid to approximately 350 mothers in Flint in just over the first month of pathfinding program, Rx Kids, the program’s coordinators announced at a celebration Feb. 14.

The initiative, which launched Jan. 10, is the first city-wide maternal and infant cash prescription program in the nation and was designed by pediatrician and public health advocate Mona Hanna-Attisha and Luke Shaefer, inaugural director of poverty solutions at the University of Michigan.

Aiming to reach and support every expectant mother in Flint, the Rx Kids program pays $1,500 during pregnancy and $500 dollars a month for the baby’s first year, with no stipulations on how the funds must be use. The program also offers assistance to mothers for transportation to and from medical appointments.

All pregnant mothers living in Flint and infants born in 2024 are eligible to enroll, with no income restrictions.

The program is designed to support mothers specifically during the first year after birth because, Hanna-Attisha stated, “families are the poorest around childbirth and this is also the most important time for a child’s development.

“Their whole future life is shaped by what happens during this period,” she said.

Shaefer added that the first year after a baby’s birth can be perilous, sometimes resulting in families losing their kids to out-of-home placements – in many cases, outcomes driven by poverty.

“So, we are going to be looking to see if this money buffers families from the economic shock of having a baby, to help them keep their child in that first year,”  he said.

The program started with “zero money in the bank” last year and so far has secured $43 million of a $55 million goal in program funding, according to Hanna-Attisha and Shaefer.

The funds came from multiple organizations, including the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and others, as listed at FlintRxKids.com.  But support also emerged from “tens of thousands of individuals that are just energized and excited about the vision and have given to the cause,” Shaefer said.

Mona Hanna-Attisha (Photo by Harold Ford)

Asked what motivated the initiative and why it was launched specifically in Flint, Hanna-Attisha emphasized, “Everything that we do in Flint is done in this humble sort of community-partnered way.”

She added that “it took a lot of thinking outside of the box” and fundraising to bring the program to life.

“Our initiative here in Flint has an infrastructure that has our community members, moms, dads, and children at the table as an advisory [group].  We even have a group of kids that advise us. It’s this long-standing kind of lived experience of hardship.”

Shaefer recalled one case from just before Rx Kids launched when a mother needed to come in to her first appointment after giving birth – a crucially important time for both baby and mom, he noted. But she had to go back to work four days after giving birth, creating an “unimaginable physical toll” on both mother and child.

Hanna-Attisha said in addition to many stories emerging from community conversations, numerical data supports the need for Rx Kids. One source is evidence collected from the Flint Registry, which she runs, showing people are struggling to make ends meet. She added that data from multiple sources emphasizes that “Flint is the poorest city in our state and one of the poorest in the nation.”

Shaefer also cited results of the federal 2021 Expanded Child Tax Credit — another source of evidence from a program similar to Rx Kids.

“That program provided money to families with children all across the nation, cutting child poverty to a historic low that year,” he stated. “Food hardship fell to the lowest level that we have ever recorded in 2021, and kids just did better on so many levels.”

The main goal of the Rx Kids program, he said, is to see a change in health outcomes for both babies and their mothers. Success is measured by asking questions like “Does the money help people eat and keep a roof over their head?” and “Are we really able to support parents in the hard work of parenting in that first year?”

 “Another interesting piece of it is that research suggests many of these dollars are being spent back into the local community,” Schaefer added.  “We see it as a different vision of economic development. Instead of paying some business to locate a factory here, we can provide resources to families who are going to spend on grocery stores and clothing stores in the community.”

So far, the program has attracted attention and support at both the state and national level.

Gene Sperling, White House senior advisor and American Rescue Plan coordinator, said: “RxKids is living proof that now that Americans have seen what President Biden’s monthly Child Tax Credit did for dramatically lowering child poverty and lifting up all working families — there is no going back.”

Sperling continued on, saying, “With help from the American Rescue Plan, Governor Whitmer and Flint Mayor Sheldon Neeley, Rx Kids is innovating on and expanding the Child Tax Credit for the all-important first year of life for children born in Flint. Instead of being a one and done pilot, I believe that Rx Kids is going to be a national model that will be replicated across the nation.”

Hanna-Attisha said she hopes that is the case, and she envisions that Rx Kids will at least continue on in Flint beyond its pilot phase.

 “We hope to do this in perpetuity,” she said. “The beauty of the funding model that we’ve created is that it leverages both public and private dollars, which creates this playbook of sustainability and scalability.”

Looking forward, Shaefer said, “We are hearing interest from all over the country — interestingly, both from what people might consider blue states and red states.  Flint has now become a national leader that we should walk alongside.”

 “This is really a program about uplifting dignity,” Shaefer said. “So many of the programs we have help families, but they make them feel bad when they have to fill out really long forms that ask a lot of intrusive questions.

“We don’t have to do it that way. We can have better outcomes if we empower families and trust them. We have a program that is easy to understand, and we can just reimagine the social contract,” he said.

Hanna-Attisha added, “This is about love, dignity, agency, empowerment, trust and a new vision of the social contract and how we care for each other.”

Information and application forms for the Rx Kids program are available here.

Author: East Village Magazine

A Non-profit, Community News Magazine Since 1976

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