COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – House Bill 7, or the ‘Strong Foundations Act,’ would boost support for mothers and children by investing more than $40 million over two years into a variety of programs

“A little money in a lot of different pots,” Representative Jay Edwards (R-Nelsonville) who is chair of the Ohio House Finance Committee said. “The bill goes far and wide.”

The bipartisan bill, being heard in the Ohio House Finance Committee, is sponsored by Representatives White and Latyna Humphrey (D-Columbus), would support mothers and babies in ways ranging from healthcare to early intervention. Many of the bill’s provisions made it into the state budget, but there are still some being hashed out. 

“It’s not just keeping them alive but it’s helping them grow and be healthy and productive in our communities,” Ohio House Assistant Minority Leader Representative Dontavius Jarrells (D-Columbus) said.

“It’s really about the infant mortality crisis,” Edwards said. “Ohio is 41 out of 50 states in infant mortality.”

In 2022, the infant mortality rate in the United States was 5.4 deaths per 1,000  live births in Ohio the rate was 6.5 deaths per 1000 births and goes up to 13.6 for black infants. 

The rate is 21% higher in Appalachia than the rest of the country. 

“Medicaid reimbursement for doulas is probably one of the biggest ways we can begin to stunt the unfortunate reality of infants and mothers dying,” Jarrells said. “That program in itself is really about providing support to those mothers, being able to address medical needs, having someone in the room with you to advocate on your behalf if you can’t advocate.”

And, in Ohio — 14 of our 88 counties are maternity care deserts.

“When you boil that down to a life, that means that mother is not getting the resources they need to live, that means that child is not living to the age of one, that means that community is suffering,” Jarrells said. “Even if we have one county that was a maternal health care desert, that’s one county too many.”

The bill does address other areas, like investing in early intervention and head start programs. Edwards said the investments and programs will focus on ensuring each community has what they need.

“You can’t have a statewide program that’s one size fits all,” Edwards said. “It’s about filtering down to the locals and allowing them to do their own thing.”

Edwards said a lot of the investments will cost money upfront but save in the long run.

“There’s parts of this bill about smoking sensation and trying to get women to stop smoking at home with a child,” Edwards said.

The bill also allocates millions of dollars over two years for early childhood mental health.

“Maybe not completely resolve but at least address early on how much that saves the system and that child from much more negative consequences later on in life,” Edwards said.

House Bill 7 would also integrate an app to help support families navigating benefit enrollment processes for programs like SNAP and WICK.

“I think that is going to be revolutionary change to providing support for families, especially when there are programs out here to help them and their babies,” Jarrells said.

The bill is a priority for Speaker of the Ohio House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Edwards said while he wants to see it across the finish line soon too, the committee is taking their time.

“It’s a lot of money,” Edwards said. “We want to make sure the money is being spent appropriately, that we’re putting this towards best practices. I think everyone agrees with the approach, everyone agrees what we are trying to get at, it’s a matter of if we are spending every dime the way it should be spent.”

Jarrells said the bill is a step forward, but there’s still a long way to go.

“There is more we can do to make sure families live and prosper in this state.” Jarrells said. “Childcare is the next big hurdle we have to tackle because we are seeing rates continually increase.”