Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha says she’s often lost for words these days. But actions speak louder than words, and the pediatrician’s actions to help Flint families through the new Rx Kids program have been deafening.
Hanna-Attisha – whose research and 2018 bestselling book helped expose the Flint water crisis – is now working to address child poverty through the founding of Rx Kids. This first-of-its-kind, citywide initiative provides direct financial support to expectant mothers in Flint, Michigan’s poorest city. Designed to improve health outcomes for children, Rx Kids officially rolled out in January.
“I cannot believe this is happening,” said Hanna-Attisha, M.D, who is a practicing pediatrician in Flint, Associate Dean for Public Health and C. S. Mott Endowed Professor of Public Health at Michigan State University. “This is literally making the impossible possible. This will eliminate deep infant poverty in an entire city and change the trajectory of an entire population of children.”
Between hospital bills, essential newborn products and supplies, and prenatal care, the financial walls can cave in fast during a baby’s first year of life. For families and single parents living in low-income areas like Flint, those first-year costs can be devastating. The Rx Kids five-year cohort study provides relief in the form of a $1,500 payout to Flint mothers-to-be. After that, moms will receive $500 monthly payments during the critical first 12 months of a child’s life to help cover wide range of costs, including those associated with prenatal care, food, diapers, toys, and more.
Rx Kids partnered with health care providers and community-engaged outreach – and received support from organizations like the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan (BCBSM) Foundation – to make the revolutionary program possible. The BCBSM Foundation is helping to fund the study through a recent $75,000 Investigator Initiated grant awarded to Rx Kids. The program also received an allocation of $16.5 million from the State of Michigan in August 2023.
“There’s lots of other research studies with very small sample sizes of this kind of work, but nothing has ever been done for an entire city,” Hanna-Attisha said. “That’s where Rx Kids kind of fills this gap in the science.”
Cash transfers as a solution to deep child poverty
The co-director of Rx Kids, H. Luke Shaefer, Ph.D., is the director of the University of Michigan’s Poverty Solutions program. Shaefer led research that helped found federal programs like the 2021 child tax credit expansion, which helped struggling, out-of-work families stay afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rx Kids is a sort of extension of the historic relief efforts enabled by the tax credit, both in premise and in magnitude.
The income initiative features no restrictions on spending, regardless of the income of the mother that registers to receive relief from the program. This was an important wrinkle in Rx Kids’ development.
“Really, everybody’s struggling to raise kids these days,” Shaefer said. “Lifting restrictions makes this a program that is actually more dignified and can be more politically stable over time.
Shaefer said. “We have examples of unconditional cash transfers in dozens of countries targeting families with kids, in particular. This sort of model – of $250 per month, $300 for young kids to pay for cribs and co-pays for doctor’s visits, or, diapers, rent, or food – is something used time and time again. And in particular, we see these big impacts for families with infants. We see improved health outcomes at birth for those that start programs prenatally.”
‘My work is about tomorrow:’ Hanna-Attisha’s program could have a long-term impact on the city she loves
Hanna-Attisha, Shaefer and partners of the program have a five-year plan in mind, one that will help roughly 6,000 families. To meet that goal, they’re looking to secure $55 million. Over 80% of those funds will translate to cash allowances.
“The support from the BCBSM Foundation is going to support the research,” Hanna-Attisha said. “Including that support we’ve raised over $43 million, which is amazing.”
Hanna-Attisha considers it a privilege to care for Flint children. Flint youth was a major motivating factor in her efforts to uncover the Flint water crisis, and it’s what drove her to help make Rx Kids possible today.
“My work is about making sure kids are healthy tomorrow, and they have the brightest future possible,” she said.
Individuals can enroll online now at flintrxkids.com. Hanna-Attisha says the brief application is “mom-tested” and takes 10 minutes to complete. The only eligibility requirements are that moms live in the city of Flint and either be pregnant at the time of enrollment, or currently have an infant under the age of 1. The Rx Kids “All We Need Is Love” launch bash takes place Feb. 14 at Flint’s Capitol Theatre. Learn more about the event, including how to get free tickets, by clicking here.
The Investigator Initiated Research Award Program from the Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan Foundation supports doctoral-level researchers focused on addressing critical gaps in health-related research, examining factors that may prevent or reduce risk for disease and much more. Learn more about eligibility and the grant application process by visiting the BCBSM Foundation website.
Photo credit: Rx Kids
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