A cash-assistance program in Flint is giving new moms some breathing room

Flint Rx Kids/Facebook

By Lucas Henkel

March 12, 2024

Pregnant moms in Flint—and their babies—are getting the help they need through a new cash assistance program.

Pregnancy brings its challenges, but being pregnant in Flint during the water crisis made things all the more difficult for Alana Turner. 

“I never realized how strange the things we went through with the water crisis were, because it just became a part of daily living,” Turner said.

While boiling bottles of water to bathe her newborn son eventually became second nature, Turner said other things didn’t get easier—like having to return to work just five weeks after her baby was born.

“I was in a management position where I was needed back and there was no real protection for my position, so it was almost like come back or be replaced,” she said. “There was just a sense of trauma around it because I couldn’t lose my job—I had a newborn—so I had to go back to work.”

Her employer didn’t have a family leave policy, so Turner used sick time to deliver and stay home with her son during the first month of his life. Going back to work was her only option—but she said she still worries it came with a cost. 

“I can only assume that a baby can feel that separation from their mother,” she said. “I was breastfeeding—he relied on me to eat. So just rushing back to work, having to make sure that I had enough milk pumped, worrying about things like that—there was no way that I could sacrifice our income at that time.”

Experts widely recommend parental leave of at least eight weeks after the birth of a new baby, and studies have shown that the longer the leave, the better health outcomes children have over time. Parental leave programs also decrease infant and childhood mortality rates, rates of infant and mother rehospitalization, postpartum depression, and domestic violence. Beyond those basic health outcomes, newborns with a parent who stays home after their birth have more advanced brain development—which is a building block to that baby’s future. 

However, the US is one of just a handful of countries without a federal family leave policy. And like so much access in this country, access to employer leave programs is especially limited for Black, Latinx, and low-wage workers. (Democrats in Congress are trying to get this done—here’s a place to find out what’s happened so far this year, and who in your state and federal government is supporting programs for families in the US.)

But babies are still being born every day. To help them get the best start in life, programs like Flint Rx Kids are popping up in the lives of parents like Turner.

Today—four years after her first child was born—Turner is pregnant with baby number two. And instead of being forced to relive the trauma of separating too soon from her newborn, she and her baby will have a better chance at staying healthy and strong courtesy of Flint Rx Kids. It’s a free program that provides cash payments to every single pregnant person and infant in the city of Flint. 

It’s something new—it launched just this year in January—and it’s paid for by a grant from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and the Charles Stewart Mott Foundation. It gives $1,500 to Flint’s expectant mothers once they reach the halfway point—that’s 20 weeks— in their pregnancy. After the baby is born, mom continues to receive $500 per month until the child’s first birthday. 

Turner used her first Rx Kids payment to purchase a car seat, stroller, and a few other items she needed before her new little one is born. She said the funds bring her a sense of security as her due date quickly approaches.

“My hope with the added help from the Rx Kids program is that I won’t feel so pressured to jump back into work immediately with the newborn and a young child at home,” she said. “I’m not going to be as worried about unexpected emergencies. I have a little bit of a safety net, I’m not stressing as much. It’s kind of like a breath of fresh air.”

Just what the doctor ordered 

While it may seem revolutionary to those in the US, cash assistance programs focused on bettering moms’ and babies’ physical and mental health have been implemented in different ways across the world.

“Every time a country does a program like this, their child poverty rates plummet, food hardship rates plummet, and kids do better on so many levels,” said Dr. Luke Shaefer, co-director of Rx Kids. Shaefer played a role in updating and expanding President Biden’s national Child Tax Credit in 2021, and saw how the program made an impact on families across the county.

In Michigan, the 2021 expanded child tax credit decreased poverty and food insecurity and helped Michiganders who were struggling to pay their bills.

“We saw so many different ways that kids did better. When it wasn’t renewed—they were short just one vote to extend the program—we’ve seen child poverty just spike back up and so many bad outcomes returned,” said Shaefer. 

Shortly after the vote, Shaefer received a call from Flint pediatrician Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha. If her name sounds familiar, it’s because she’s the researcher who exposed the Flint water crisis. Today, Hanna-Attisha is the Associate Dean for Public Health at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine. She’s also the founding director of the Pediatric Public Health Initiative—a partnership between MSU and Hurley Children’s Hospital in Flint.

“Dr. Mona called me and said, ‘Hey, Flint wants to lead the nation and say let’s not turn back the clock. Let’s take a different path,’” recalled Shaefer. 

Hanna-Attisha has seen first-hand how poverty has affected Flint’s moms and their children. She had an idea about how they could use data from the success of the Child Tax Credit to give Flint’s families a new start.

“The more you invest in kids—especially in those first years of life—the more likely you’ll have a population that is healthy and successful,” she said. “An investment in children is an investment in our nation.”

According to the University of Michigan, nearly 70% of Flint kids are growing up in poverty, about five times more than the US average. The US Census Bureau reported that the median annual household income of Flint residents was around $35,000 in 2022, with decades of deindustrialization and disinvestment making the city one of the poorest places in the country. 

Hanna-Attisha says investing in young kids, moms, and families decreases expenses in health care and child welfare while increasing economic productivity and revitalizing local economies. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer agrees.

In her budget proposal for fiscal year 2025, Whitmer is proposing the launch of several more cash assistance programs like Rx Kids across Michigan. The idea is getting praise and support from other high-ranking state Democrats, like US Sen. Debbie Stabenow and Ann Arbor’s Gene Sperling, who’s a senior adviser to President Joe Biden.

“Instead of being a one-and-done pilot, I believe that Rx Kids is going to be a national model that will be replicated across the nation,” Sperling said during the Flint Rx Kids launch party in February. 

As of March 5, more than half a million dollars has been “prescribed” to more than 400 families who have enrolled in the Flint Rx Kids program. 

“It’s astounding for a social program to have that many people sign up so quickly and be so interested in it,” said Shaefer. “This is the city of Flint leading the nation, basically taking a stand saying, ‘We are going to come alongside our youngest kids.’ I think that’s a really powerful statement.”


  • Lucas Henkel

    Lucas Henkel is a multimedia reporter who strives to inform and inspire local communities. Before joining The 'Gander, Lucas served as a journalist for the Lansing City Pulse.


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