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Guaranteed income programs for expectant mothers spreading across US

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(NEW YORK) — After two miscarriages and now experiencing a high-risk pregnancy, Ashley Hudgins is praying for a healthy baby.

Hudgins, 34, told ABC News that intense stress and mental health complications took both a physical and emotional toll on her past pregnancies, but a new guaranteed income program for expectant mothers may ease some of the financial stressors of parenthood.

“You’re constantly thinking: ‘Oh, am I gonna have money for my rent this month? Am I going to have money to pay my phone bill?’” said Hudgins, who lives in Colorado.

She had just started to question how she’d pay the overdue bills piling up when she received her first payment as part of the guaranteed income program called the Healthy Beginnings Project.

The project, privately funded by children’s accessory company Goldbug, will provide 20 pregnant participants in both rural and urban Colorado cities with a monthly guaranteed income of $750 for 15 months.

“It’s already been a great help, so I can only imagine the things that are coming along that this is going to help,” Hudgins said.

The program was inspired by recent reports on the worsening state of maternal health care in the United States, according to Goldbug CEO Katherine Gold.

“We started this project after doing work in the doula space and other spaces to try and help figure out clues to help lower the maternal mortality rate, which is so high in this country,” Gold said.

The U.S. has been declared one of the “most dangerous developed nations” for childbirth, according to a recent report from the March of Dimes, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the health of pregnant people and babies.

The U.S. saw a 3% increase in infant mortality over the past year and a maternal death rate that doubled from 2018 to 2021, according to the March of Dimes’ analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

“I know how it feels to go through something that traumatic, and I know how it feels to feel like you’re losing your mind, and you’re not really being heard or being validated,” said Hudgins. “It is terrifying, and it is sad.”

The Bridge Project, another privately funded guaranteed income project that has worked with and influenced the Healthy Beginnings Project, has been doing this work in New York City and Rochester’s low-income communities for over two years. New mothers receive up to $1,000 a month, unconditionally, for three years, according to the organization.

To be eligible, women must live in the specified region, be at least 18 years old, 23 weeks pregnant or less with your first child, and have an annual household income under $52,000.

New York City recipient Ashley Medina, 27, was laid off from her job at a nursing home following the height of the COVID-19 pandemic before discovering she was pregnant. When she first heard about the program — cash payments with no strings attached — she thought it was too good to be true.

“I was backed up on rent. Just a lot of things were backed up, with me not working,” said Medina, who has since found a new job. “Once this came about, the money really helped … being able to have food on the table, being able to pay bills that needed to get paid off, and things like that. I was able to buy the baby everything that she needed.”

This program will now be expanding to Buffalo to address the city’s issues of racial inequality and childhood poverty.

More than 40% of children in Buffalo live in poverty, with Black children experiencing poverty at more than twice the rate of white children, according to NY State of Health data.

New research from Columbia University’s Center on Poverty and Social Policy found that the success of the federal Child Tax Credit in reducing food insecurity, financial hardship, and child poverty to historic lows, could be replicated in earlier stages of family development, starting before childbirth.

Researchers found that what happens to a mother in pregnancy can impact the baby’s long-term health, development and well-being even into adulthood. Supplemental income can provide expectant parents with the resources necessary for healthy pregnancies, according to the Columbia University report.

Supplemental income programs, particularly government-funded ones such as the bipartisan federal Child Tax Credit, or CTC, have faced criticism from those who say it will stop people from working. Some critics, including the libertarian think tank the Cato Institute, argue that there are other long-term solutions that could be more effective or that it is too expensive for the government to maintain.

The now-expired Child Tax Credit, which was first enacted in 1997 and later expanded under both Democratic and Republican administrations, sent monthly payments of up to $300 per child in their household as an anti-poverty effort. The effort earned bipartisan support but also bipartisan criticism.

Supporters touted the program for reducing childhood poverty to historic lows. Its critics, including Sen. Joe Manchin, criticized its costs, also arguing that recipients would misuse the payments.

The Cato Institute argues that, “as currently designed, the CTC is not primarily an anti-poverty program.” Rather, it is primarily a subsidy for middle, and upper-income Americans, according to the public policy organization. The Institute’s Jacob Goldin and Katherine Michelmore found that “the majority of filers in the bottom 30% of the distribution are only eligible for a partial credit.”

The credit expired last year but may be resurrected as Republicans and Democrats negotiate their end-of-year tax bill.

The Happy Beginnings Project is privately funded through Goldbug, and its CEO said that raising her son as a single mother and working full time influenced her decision to fund such projects:

“Having all the privilege that I have, you do recognize like how stressful and impossible it all feels to juggle everything without resources,” Gold said.

She continued, “The beauty is that as a private company, we can sort of deploy our resources into ways that others maybe couldn’t.”

Medina said both the income and the organization’s support system has shifted her outlook on the future.

Medina said she can stop worrying just about the next paycheck or bill and start thinking about the future for herself and her children — about college, a career change, and other possibilities.

“The Bridge Project is not just for income. It’s just not to receive money. They are like family … every step of the way the you want to succeed in something they will help you,” said Medina.

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