March of Dimes Hails New California Law to Reduce Black Maternal and Infant Death

October 5, 2021

March of Dimes, the leading nonprofit fighting for the health of moms and babies, Monday welcomed a new law, the California Momnibus Act, that will improve perinatal outcomes and address racial disparities in maternal and infant health. The bill, also known as Senate Bill 65 (SB-65), was signed by Governor Gavin Newsom and aims to make significant strides in preventing preterm birth, ending preventable maternal deaths and addressing the racial health disparities that affect California mothers, infants and families.

The United States has the highest maternal mortality rate in the developed world. An estimated 700 deaths per year in the U.S. are pregnancy-related with about 3 in 5 deemed preventable. Families of color are disproportionately impacted by maternal and infant death. A recent report from the California Department of Public Health revealed the pregnancy-related mortality ratio for Black women is four to six times higher than other racial/ethnic groups.  In 2018, 1,917 babies died in California before reaching the age of one, with the mortality rate for Black and Indigenous/Native American infants much higher than the state’s average.

SB-65 not only improves California's committees that review perinatal and infant mortality and morbidity, it also diversifies, strengthens and creates greater access to the midwifery workforce by establishing a fund for education programs that prioritize admitting people from underrepresented groups and underserved communities. The new law also clarifies that pregnant people are exempt from CalWORKS welfare-to-work requirements. Key components of the original bill were included in California’s 2021-2022 budget such as extending Medicaid coverage to 12-months postpartum, Medicaid coverage for doula services, increasing the CalWorks supplement for pregnant people and a guaranteed income pilot program prioritizing pregnant people.  March of Dimes believes the new law reimagines maternity care, pregnancy and birth for Californians and will ultimately improve health outcomes for all.

Mashariki Kudumu, Director of Maternal and Infant Health for March of Dimes, Greater Los Angeles, spoke about the impact of this legislation at Monday’s virtual bill signing.

“As we join hands together to build a better future for moms and babies, we know that there's more work ahead of us,” Kudumu said. “In alignment with the federal Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, California has shown its commitment to improving maternal and infant health with SB-65. We hope this sets an example for other states to take up their own legislation because lives literally depend on it.”

March of Dimes fully supports the passage of the federal Momnibus Act which, like the California Momnibus, is a comprehensive approach to addressing the maternal health crisis and improving health outcomes for communities of color.

“March of Dimes applauds the adoption of this critical legislation and the full breadth of maternal health reforms California has enacted this year,” said Stacey Brayboy, Senior Vice President for Government Affairs at March of Dimes. “Sen. Skinner and her colleagues in the legislature have demonstrated vision and leadership by raising up the inequities endured by BIPOC mothers and infants and ensuring the state is taking bold steps to close the gap in outcomes. I want to further thank Governor Newsom for his support of these initiatives and his ongoing commitment to realizing the changes we need to ensure all mothers and babies have a healthy, strong start.”

March of Dimes also thanks First Partner Jennifer Seibel Newsom for her support of the California Momnibus Act, as well as Senator Nancy Skinner for her leadership in authoring the bill, along with all coauthors, cosponsors and advocates.