Report: More direct aid, tax credits to poor moms could improve Georgia's maternal, infant health

More than half of U.S. states currently offer Earned Income Tax Credit programs.

Could cash support programs help bring down Georgia’s skyrocketing maternal mortality rate?

A coalition of maternal health advocates says yes. And it’s lobbying for more supports for women, children and low-income families during the upcoming legislative session, including a boost to direct cash benefits.

Advocates also want a state Earned Income Tax Credit to be on the table when the General Assembly begins meeting again in January.

These and other policy priorities are outlined in a recent report from the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

The report links financial stability to positive impacts on birth outcomes, child cognitive development, and maternal mental health.

“Helping people get to those doctor appointments, being able to afford those prenatal vitamins, relieving stress because if you’re working so much or you can’t pay your bills, stress can impact the developing child inside of you,” said Georgia Budget and Policy Institute analyst Ife Finch Floyd. “And we certainly see improved impacts in lower incidences of preterm births, but also higher birth weights as well. And both of those are connected to longer-term health impacts.”

In Georgia, Black women are more than twice as likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women and are at higher risk for a host of poor birth outcomes.

The state ranks at the bottom overall when it comes to maternal mortality rates

Maternal mortality has been an issue in the state’s debate over expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. 

Earlier this year, Gov. Brian Kemp enacted a law extending postpartum Medicaid insurance from the previous six months to a full year.

Finch Floyd applauded the change to postpartum Medicaid, but said much more needs to be done to support struggling families before and after babies are born, including full Medicaid expansion.

She’s also calling for increased financial supports, pointing to research suggesting Black women with low education levels often benefit the most from direct cash support programs.

“The evidence is beginning to show that when parents are not as stressed about; can they afford diapers, can they afford infant formula? Or they may be stressed out coming home from a low-paying job. And having those cash payments takes a mental load off of parents,” Finch Floyd said. “They’re better able to provide for the basic needs of their kids and that certainly has health outcomes, but it also means engagement and a connection with children, babies and toddlers, where they can provide that nurturing piece that is really critical to kids’ brain development.”

Georgia Budget and Policy Institute proposals for the next legislative session include increasing financial benefit payments through the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program for families with very low incomes, expanding the state’s unemployment insurance program, and instituting a state Earned Income Tax Credit in Georgia. 

“A state EITC with a refundability component. So we’re not just lowering what families have to pay in taxes,” she said, “but also making sure those families who are working for low wages get that extra benefit. So, they can put that back into either savings or taking care of their kids.”

More than half of U.S. states currently offer Earned Income Tax Credits in addition to the federal Earned Income Tax Credit program.

It’s unclear whether a proposal for a similar program in Georgia would have the backing to pass at the capitol next year.  

In his campaign against Democrat Stacey Abrams — who supported a plan for the Earned Income Tax Credit — Kemp has promised to use around $2 billion of the state’s surplus funds to pay for additional income tax and property tax breaks.