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FORUM PUBLICATIONS: Bill Would Give Low-income Moms ‘Baby Box’

Friday, April 15, 2016

By Don Davis, Forum

Getting a low-income family’s infant off to the right start can make a big difference in that baby’s life, a Minnesota House committee heard Tuesday as it considered funding a program to give items ranging from diapers to spoons.

The box the items come in even can be used, as a bed for the newborn.

The $500,000 state program would help a variety of babies, but especially minorities, bill sponsor Rep. Dave Pinto, D-St. Paul, said.

Pinto’s bill also would establish a study to see why minority babies die in much higher numbers than whites. Three times as many black mothers and eight times more American Indians get inadequate prenatal care than white mothers, Pinto said.

Pinto said that 11 American Indian babies out of every 1,000 die, while nine black babies die. The Minnesota statewide average is four.

“Prenatal care is pretty low cost,” Rep Tina Liebling, D-Rochester, said. “You get a lot of bang for the buck.”

The committee appeared to support Pinto, but took no vote Tuesday. The legislation will be considered when the House Health and Human Services Committee considers its 2016 spending proposals.

“We really do need to know why babies of color are dying at higher rates than others,” Rep. Diane Loeffler, D-Minneapolis, said of the reason she supports the study portion of the Pinto bill.

With information from the study, Patina Park of Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center said, “instead of being reactive to problems, we can be strategic in our resource distribution.” Saving just a few babies would be valuable, she added.

The baby box part of the measure was new to many committee members, although the concept long has been common in Finland.

Danielle Selassie, executive director of Twin Cities-based Babies Need Boxes, said more than 20 programs provide baby boxes across the country. Her nonprofit organization has provided 150 boxes in its short existence and expects to give out 350 more this year to poor mothers from Mankato to Duluth.

Funding in Pinto’s bill would provide 2,500 boxes a year.

A typical baby box includes a waterproof mattress and sheet, information on safe sleep, 60 diapers, wipes, lotions, soap, ointments, plates, forks, spoons, toys, books and burp cloths.

Testifiers told the committee that many low-income mothers could not afford those items when a baby arrives.

You can view this story at Don Davis' Capitol Chatter blog here: