Advocates Want Infant Program in Budget

by David Gorn

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In anticipation of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget proposal scheduled to be released tomorrow, children's advocacy groups have a long list of cutbacks and program eliminations they want re-funded. But they're starting small: They seek full funding for an infant health program cut back in 2009.

Children's groups would like to see the Black Infant Health Program restored to its original scope and funding. The state still is running a version of the program, but in a limited number of areas and in a limited way, according to Rae Jones, executive director of Great Beginnings for Black Babies headquartered in Inglewood.

"The state has rolled it out in some areas and it's been a dismal failure," Jones said. "The number served went down by two-thirds."

The new model, Jones said, allows 20 prenatal and postnatal classes, whereas the original program focused more on case management, including home visits. Keeping people in a program by offering classes is difficult, she said, and the new model is thin gruel in comparison.

"It is definitely cheaper," Jones said. "And it'd be really cheaper if you're not retaining anyone."

Kelly Hardy, executive director of Children Now, said she hopes the governor tomorrow will reinstate funding for the original BIHP, now that the state's finances are a little stronger.

"Now is really the time," Hardy said. "We're past due in supporting programs that help kids."

The state cut about $3 million in general fund dollars from the program in 2009 -- a pittance in the overall California state budget, according to Hardy.

"This one is easily doable, and it's really egregious that it's not getting funded," Hardy said. "The evidence says that if we make this modest investment we'll be saving the state money in premature births covered by Medi-Cal."

Other children's issues include better dental care and providing Applied Behavior Analysis as a Medi-Cal benefit for autistic children.

"If I were making a wish list this is not greater than the other wishes," Hardy said, "but it's really important."

According to Jones, black children face two to three times the infant mortality rate as other children. "One in seven are born too early or too small, and they're more than twice as likely in California to die," Jones said.


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