WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee passed U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-OH) Healthy Start Reauthorization Act, bipartisan legislation to reauthorize the Healthy Start program. Healthy Start aims to reduce the national infant mortality rate by identifying and supporting communities with infant mortality rates that are at least one and a half times the U.S. national average or increasing above the national average. The bill will now move forward for consideration by full Senate.

Despite having some of the finest doctors and best children’s hospitals in the country, Ohio still falls far short when it comes to infant mortality, ranking an abysmal 41st in the country. And we have a serious problem with racial disparities in birth outcomes – black infants die at three times the rate of white infants in Ohio, and we rank near the bottom in deaths of African American infants. We need to support our communities with the tools and resources they need to empower moms and their families,” said Senator Brown.

Brown introduced the legislation earlier this month and hosted a roundtable discussion in Columbus on Friday with central Ohio mothers who have benefitted from the Columbus Healthy Start Program, My Baby & Me. 

The Healthy Start Program focuses on strengthening community partnerships to help serve communities that have poor maternal and infant health outcomes. Racial and ethnic minorities experience disproportionately high rates of pre-term birth and infant death. Nationally, African American mothers die at 3-4 times the rate of white mothers, and black babies are twice as likely to die as white babies. This stark disparity is even worse in Ohio, as Ohio is 41st in the national ranking for infant mortality and close to the worst in the nation for deaths of African American infants.

By improving access to quality health care and culturally-competent services, the Healthy Start program has helped to address these disparities and reduce infant mortality rates among its program participants to 5.2 infant deaths per 1,000 live births, which is lower than the national average.

The Healthy Start program aims to reduce the infant mortality rate by providing federal grant funding to sites that focus on empowering women and their families and reducing negative birth outcomes.  

Brown’s bill, the Healthy Start Reauthorization Act, would:

  • Reauthorize the Healthy Start Program for five years (FY2020 through FY2024);
  • Encourage coordination with the community in which grantees are located and expand the criteria used to evaluate Healthy Start projects, including how projects have impacted infant mortality rates and perinatal and infant health outcomes;
  • Instruct the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to issue a report detailing the allocation of the Healthy Start grants, progress in meeting the evaluation criteria, and improvements in health outcomes for program participants.

Women and their families may be enrolled into a Healthy Start program at any stage of pregnancy – pre-conception, inter-conception, and post-conception. Each enrolled family completes a comprehensive assessment that captures multiple demographics such as physical and behavioral health, housing, employment and domestic violence risks. Healthy Start families are able to receive varying health care, and public health services, including prenatal and postpartum care, parenting skill-building, case management and job training.

The program has grown from 15 sites providing services in 1991 to 100 sites across 37 states in 2016. Ohio is home to five Healthy Start projects in Cleveland, Columbus, Cincinnati, Toledo, and Dayton.

The Healthy Start Reauthorization Act is supported by the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine.

The Healthy Start Program was established as a pilot program by President George H.W. Bush in 1991 as a program of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Healthy Start is the federal government’s primary program to reduce infant mortality.