Despite the current budget impasse, state lawmakers are celebrating the inclusion of funding for maternal health initiatives in the appropriations bill approved by the House last week.
The current iteration of Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s first state budget includes a first-of-its-kind $2.3 million investment in expanding maternal health programming and implementation of prevention strategies to reduce maternal mortality in Pennsylvania.
However, before the budget can reach Shapiro’s desk for final approval, it must first be signed by Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, in front of the full Senate chamber, according to the state constitution. As of this reporting, the Senate is not scheduled to return to Harrisburg until September 18.
If approved, the maternal health investments included in the budget will fulfill a promise made by Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro in his March 7 budget address, in which he vowed to put “real resources” into studying the factors contributing to Pennsylvania’s high maternal mortality rate, saying that the commonwealth “shouldn’t accept” rising rates of maternal mortality.
A 2022 report from the Maternal Mortality Review Committee, which reviews all maternal deaths in the commonwealth, found that Pennsylvania had an overall pregnancy-associated mortality ratio (PAMR) of 82 deaths per 100,000 live births. Non-Hispanic Blacks had the highest PAMR of 163 per 100,000 live births.
The $2.3 million designated in the unsigned 2023-24 fiscal year budget that lawmakers in the House passed earlier this month is earmarked for maternal health programming initiatives and for a study on maternal mortality prevention strategies.
While the budget is not finalized, members of the bicameral, bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus praised the still-unfinished state budget for making “critical” investments in maternal health.
State Rep. La’Tasha D. Mayes, D-Allegheny, called the budget a “path forward” for the Commonwealth.
“While the budget continues to fund crisis pregnancy centers, which are sources of medical misinformation targeting pregnant people seeking abortions, the budget makes critical investments in maternal and child health, the Nurse Family Partnership and the Child Care Works program,” Mayes, a former reproductive justice advocate, said. “While we did not get everything we wanted in this budget, I remain deeply committed to ensuring Pennsylvanians also have a path forward to reproductive health care that is equitably funded.”
As budget negotiations continued at the Capitol, Shapiro also quietly signed Act 5 — formerly SB 262 — into law.
The act, introduced by state Sen. Judy Schwank, D-Berks, requires Pennsylvania’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee to share each reportable event with the department.
“Accurate and regular tracking of data is essential for the comprehensive research on maternal mortality in the Commonwealth,” Schwank said in a co-sponsorship memorandum.
Schwank, who co-chairs the Women’s Health Caucus, said that the inclusion of maternal health initiatives in the state budget, and the passage of SB 262, reflects the progress of years of advocacy work on everything from reproductive rights to expanding postpartum Medicaid coverage.
“A lot of awareness around maternal health has been raised over the past few years, and I think we are starting to see those advocacy efforts pay off,” Schwank told the Capital-Star. “What our state budget invests in reflects our priorities as a commonwealth.”
Schwank added that she was “thrilled” to see funding for maternal health initiatives in Shapiro’s budget proposal earlier this year.
“There are a lot of budget items we disagree on, but I’m sure every member of the General Assembly supports the $2.3 million we’ve approved,” Schwank said. “More and more, people understand that this issue impacts all of us, so we all need to be a part of the solution.”
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