On Monday, California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the “Momnibus Act” into law to address racial disparities in maternal and infant health, a significant victory for families of color.
The law will establish a fund to expand and diversify the midwifery workforce, extend Medicaid coverage for doulas (trained professionals who support mothers during their pregnancies), and extend Medicaid eligibility for mothers suffering from postpartum depression from two to twelve months.
The law is part of a larger effort to change the state’s stark statistics. According to data compiled by the California Department of Public Health from 2014 to 2016, black women in California are four to six times more likely than white women to die within a year of pregnancy. According to a 2019 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report, Black and American Indian women are two to three times more likely than white women to die from pregnancy-related causes.
Despite the fact that California’s infant mortality rate is lower than the national average, lawmakers said in the bill that Black babies die at a rate that is more than double the statewide average. Mashariki Kudumu, the March of Dimes’ director of maternal and infant health initiatives in Los Angeles, assisted with the creation of “Momnibus.”
Democratic Sen. Nancy Skinner introduced the bill, which received support from statewide maternal health and racial justice organizations.
The “Momnibus Act” calls for a committee to improve data collection and reviews of maternal deaths in the state, including interviews with affected family members, in order to better understand what factors contribute to maternal and infant mortality rates. Every three years, the committee intends to publish its findings and recommendations. Some of the bill’s provisions, such as the establishment of a guaranteed income pilot program for pregnant low-income Californians and Medicaid coverage extensions, were already included in the state budget for 2021-22.
Regardless of immigration status, the legislation applies to all women who require but cannot afford services.
Tiffany Sagote, an obstetric medical assistant in San Francisco who is expecting her third child, says the law is “extraordinary for women of color who have often been overlooked in health care, professionally and emotionally, during such a beautiful milestone in our lives.”
“The most exciting thing,” she continues, “is receiving an extension of postpartum management with Medi-Cal, such as mental health services, which are often cut short for women of color… there is an idea in the Black community where, like, needing help is kind of taboo or a sign of failure.” But, in reality, it is the best way to help us maintain a solid foundation and provide the best version of ourselves to our children.”
She believes that having a diverse group of doulas and midwives will help expectant mothers advocate for themselves, especially when they are not heard.
“Unfortunately, I have seen and dealt with racism and mistreatment in the health care field, which contributes to the statistics among black mothers and infants,” Sagote continued. “Having more access to Black and Indigenous doulas will help mothers feel less intimidated in a medical setting.”
According to Kudumu, the bill’s services will reduce stress among mothers of color and those from low-income families.
“We know that Black women have a higher rate of preterm birth than other women in California. It is critical to address some of the underlying causes of this, such as stress, racism, and economic opportunities,” she stated. Nourbese Flint, executive director of the Black Women for Wellness Action Project, attended the signing ceremony with her 7-week-old baby and referred to the bill as her “second baby.”
While she referred to the law as a “win,” she added that “there is still more work to be done.”
The March of Dimes, according to Stacey Stewart, president and CEO, is pushing for a federal version of California’s “Momnibus,” which was reintroduced this session with the support of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.
“California’s passage of the ‘Momnibus’ bill is also a model for what other states can do. And we hope that other states will look to California for leadership in this regard “Stewart stated his case. “If fully implemented and fully funded [at the federal level], we should expect a significant improvement in health outcomes for moms and babies of color.”