Baltimore's 'baby bonus' proposal aims to combat childhood poverty

A "baby bonus" could be on its way to new parents in Baltimore if voters approve a proposal that aims to help reduce childhood poverty from birth with a modest one-time cash payment.

A group of local teachers spearheaded the effort by securing the necessary 10,000 signatures to bring the question to voters as a ballot initiative in November. 

If the ballot initiative is approved, all new parents in Baltimore will receive a one-time payment of at least $1,000.

The proposal is loosely modeled on a program implemented this year in Flint, Michigan, where women receive $1,500 during mid-pregnancy and $500 per month for the first year after giving birth. Officials said the Flint program was the first of its kind in the U.S.

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Organizers behind the Baltimore campaign say more systemic change is needed on a national level to help lift families out of poverty, but giving new parents a modest financial boost could prove an important first step.

"If we’re going to spend a limited amount of money, where do you get the most bang for your buck? Research says at birth," said Nate Golden, a high school math teacher who helped found the Maryland Child Alliance, which is pushing for the ballot initiative. "This could literally have a lifelong impact on a kid."

Golden said he also hopes the program will demonstrate to elected leaders in Baltimore and beyond that there’s a real appetite among voters for implementing policies that help vulnerable children succeed.

The issue is particularly urgent in Baltimore, where an estimated 31% of school-aged children are experiencing poverty, according to census data. Nationally, childhood poverty fell during the pandemic thanks to federal relief programs, but it has since climbed again to about 12% in 2022.

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It’s incredibly hard for the poor to move up the economic ladder, especially among communities of color. Research shows that most American children born into the lowest income bracket will remain at roughly the same socioeconomic status for the rest of their lives.

While no one contends that $1,000 is a life-changing amount of money, it could help cover some of the many costs that come with having a baby, including paying for diapers, formula, strollers, cribs and more. And for new parents living on society’s margins, that could make a real difference, said Nadya Dutchin, executive director of the Baltimore-based organization ShareBaby, which distributes free diapers and other baby essentials.

Baltimore also launched a two-year pilot program in 2022 providing guaranteed income assistance payments of $1,000 per month to a select group of young parents using federal COVID-relief money. A recent report evaluating the ongoing pilot found that participants had experienced more housing stability and improved mental health during the first year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.