Press Release

Senator Gillibrand, Deputy Mayor Owens, And Health Leader Sequoia Kemp Call For Major Increase In Funding To Address Maternal Mortality Crisis Among Black Women And Eliminate Racial Bias In Maternal Care

Jan 24, 2022

Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand stood at South Side Communication Center with Deputy Mayor of Syracuse Sharon Owens and Co-Founder of Sankofa Reproductive Health and Healing Center SeQuoia Kemp to call for funding to address the nation’s maternal mortality crisis among Black women and eliminate racial bias in maternal care. Ahead of final negotiations for the FY22 appropriations package, Senator Gillibrand is calling on House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders to include $7 million to fund evidence-based training programs to reduce implicit bias in maternal health and $25 million to establish a program that delivers integrated health care services to pregnant women and new mothers that can reduce the disproportionate rate of maternal deaths among Black non-Hispanic women and adverse maternal health outcomes.

“Black mothers in the United States are facing a public health crisis due to deep systemic racial inequities and Congress has a moral responsibility to act. Maternal mortality in our country is an epidemic, and the dangers to maternal health in Syracuse have only been exacerbated by the stress, isolation, and inadequate access to health care that has accompanied the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Senator Gillibrand. “That’s why I’m pushing to establish two new grant programs in the FY22 appropriations package to address inequities in our nation’s maternal health care and support women throughout pregnancy and before, during, and after childbirth. I will always serve as a fierce advocate for women across the country and will fight to ensure that every mother receives high-quality health care regardless of race or socioeconomic status.”

“This issue is very personal to me,“ said Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens. “At 27 years old, I went into premature labor. As a young woman, I was confused and scared of what was going on. My son died 5 days later. 8 years later, I was in the hospital again, preparing to give birth, and I was able to tell the hospital the way I wanted to have birth. Not every woman has the opportunity to do this. Thank you for your support, and for this legislation. Let’s get this one done.”

“One way we can reduce maternal and infant racial health disparities is by expanding access to prenatal and postpartum doula services provided by those of us who live within the communities we serve. We need our local, state, and federal government to invest in and fund work that is rooted in healing and prevention of maternal and infant death. Health equity requires that policy makers uplift, center and fully fund community-based models of care as part of our response to the maternal health crisis. We urge our representatives to create legislation that supports the cultivation of a perinatal workforce that goes beyond the hospital walls. There are plenty of birth workers who are skilled and deserve to be paid for the lives that we save and the illnesses we prevent within our community,” said SeQuoia Kemp, BS, RN, Founder of Doula 4 a Queen, and Co-Founder of Sankofa Reproductive Health and Healing Center.

The United States continues to have the highest rate of maternal mortality in the developed world, driven in large part by the high mortality rates among Black mothers. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 700 pregnancy-related deaths occur in the U.S. each year, many of which are preventable. The overall maternal mortality rate in Onondaga County is 85% higher than the national average. These risks have only grown over the past year, as COVID-19 presents unique risks for pregnant people and their babies. This disparity transcends income and education status, and cannot be explained away by risk factors such as genetics or lack of health care access. Despite the high number of pregnancy and childbirth complications, CDC studies have found that two out of three of all reported deaths were preventable.

In Senator Gillibrand’s letter to House and Senate Appropriations Committee leaders, she calls for $7 million for evidence-based Implicit Bias Training Grants for medical and nursing school students and other health professionals to reduce bias and errors in judgment or behavior and $25 million to establish a Pregnancy Medical Home Demonstration Program that delivers integrated health care services to pregnant women and new mothers that could help reduce the disproportionate rate of maternal deaths among Black non-Hispanic women and adverse maternal health outcomes.

In addition, Gillibrand is also urging her colleagues to ensure the final FY22 spending package provides funding for several of her maternal health priorities, including at least:

  • $30 million to support uniform data collection through Maternal Mortality Review Committees (MMRCs) that operate in nearly every state to review individual maternal deaths to understand their causes and help identify solutions to prevent these tragic outcomes;
  • $15 million for the Alliance for Innovation on Maternal Health (AIM) Program which provides states and hospital systems with actionable, evidence-based toolkits to improve maternal health outcomes;
  • $5 million for the Maternal Mental Health Hotline, which serves as a critical lifeline for women in need of mental health support during pregnancy and the postpartum period;
  • $10 million for the Screening and Treatment of Maternal Depression and Related Behavioral Disorders Program (MDRBD) to support the training of health care providers to screen, assess, and treat for maternal mental health conditions and provide specialized psychiatric consultation to assist the providers.

Senator Gillibrand is a longtime champion for the health and rights of mothers and their families. She supports the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, which includes her bill, the Moms Matter Act. Gillibrand also supports a host of bills to reduce racial disparities in maternal health including her Maternal CARE Actthe Modernizing Obstetric Medicine Standards (MOMS) Actand Senator Booker’s MOMMIES Act. The senator also co-led the TRICARE Coverage for Doula Support Act in 2020, which helped initiate a pilot program for TRICARE beneficiaries to receive coverage for doula fees as part of the FY21 NDAA. In 2021, she successfully secured $17 million in maternal health care funding in the FY21 appropriations package. The package included a key provision from Gillibrand’s MOMS Act, securing $9 million in federal funding for the AIM program.

To read the full letter, please click here.