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Guaranteed Income Program for Pregnant Black People Expands to 4 California Counties

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A woman sitting on a couch holding a baby.
Sabrina Hall holds her newborn, Harleigh Quin, at her home in the Bayview neighborhood of local nonprofit San Francisco, on Nov. 13, 2022, while visiting with volunteers from One Love Black Community. (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

A first-in-the-nation experiment to give cash to pregnant Black people in San Francisco is expanding to four counties in California after receiving $6.5 million in city and state funding.

Since June 2021, the Abundant Birth Project has given $1,000 per month to nearly 150 Black residents during a portion of their pregnancies and the first six months of their children’s lives. With the extra funding from the California Department of Social Services and another $1.5 million in city funds, the program aims to reach another 525 people in San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

The goal is to provide financial relief during pregnancy for people who face the highest degrees of income disparities and racial inequity.

“This guaranteed income program helps ease some of the financial burdens that all too often keep mothers from being able to prioritize their own health and ultimately impact the health of their babies and family,” Mayor London Breed said in a statement announcing the expansion on Tuesday.

“We hope the Abundant Birth Project serves as a model to address racial birth disparities throughout the region and state, and across the country.”

Black women experience the highest maternal mortality rates among any population and are twice as likely than white women to have a preterm birth. It’s a cause for alarm because premature births are the leading cause of newborn deaths and can lead to lifelong health issues, including chronic disease, learning disabilities and behavioral health issues.

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“For so long, Black women have been excluded from the resources needed to have safe and healthy pregnancies. This funding will provide pregnant people with economic stability during this critical phase in their lives while allowing public health institutions to test a novel and promising public health intervention,” said Dr. Zea Malawa, director of Expecting Justice, which is overseeing the project with the San Francisco Department of Public Health.

The health impacts of the program are being studied by the University of California at San Francisco, Berkeley and Davis. In San Francisco, recipients are randomly selected after meeting eligibility requirements (they must be in their first or second trimester and have a household income of less than $100,000 per year). Participation in the study is voluntary.

Most participants have said the application process was easy and the program “felt more dignified,” because participants can choose how best to spend the money, said Michaela Taylor, project manager for Expecting Justice. She said some recipients use the extra cash to supplement their family leave, so they can stay home longer to recover from childbirth and bond with their baby.

“We want to make sure we’re replicating that as we expand, because that’s the whole thing about abundance, (which is) making sure folks feel celebrated and that they’re just getting a lot of resources,” Taylor said.

Expecting Justice is partnering with the Alameda County Public Health Department, the Richmond Rapid Response Fund, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, and the Riverside Community Health Foundation to serve their communities over the next two to three years beginning in mid-2023. Recipients will receive monthly stipends of $600 to $1,000 over 12 months, depending on which county they live in.

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