Walking the walk with infant mortality

Added December 2nd, 2013 by Judy Putnam | Email This Entry Email This Entry
Judy Putnam

Factors that may drive Michigan’s tragically high infant mortality rate include stress, unemployment, poverty and neighborhood safety in addition to what might be thought of as the more traditional reasons, such as lack of healthcare or poor safe sleep practices, according to a new report from the Michigan Department of Community Health. The report takes a broad look at why Michigan’s rate is so high and in particular why an African American infant in Michigan is 2.6 more times likely to die before reaching the child’s first birthday than a white infant.

It’s an excellent report from the Gov. Rick Snyder administration aimed at reducing Michigan’s high infant mortality rate. But as my colleague Jane Zehnder-Merrell, the Kids Count in Michigan project director, points out to Michigan Public Radio, the governor has moved in the wrong direction when it comes to  supports to address unemployment, poverty and stress for low-income mothers.

Consider, the governor’s administration had acted to:

  • Dramatically reduce cash assistance for families with children – most of them single moms. Caseloads have tumbled to record lows, despite persistently high unemployment.
  • Limit federally funded food assistance by implementing a food asset test that was not required by the federal government.
  • Reduce the Earned Income Tax Credit aimed at helping low-income breadwinners stay on the job.
  • Cut tax credits for those contributing to homeless shelters and food banks.
  • Offer child care reimbursement rates that are among the nation’s lowest.

In fairness, the Snyder administration has also expanded the Healthy Kids Dental and the Great Start Readiness Program as well as pushed for Medicaid expansion for the low-income uninsured – all actions that will make life better for low-income families. The dramatic unraveling of the safety net, however, should not go unnoted in a report that seeks to reduce the maternal stress that can lead to preterm births and low birthweight, the leading causes of infant mortality.

If we’re going to reduce infant mortality in Michigan, supports for low-income women must be improved.

— Judy Putnam

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