Philly gets closer to launching $1,000-a-month cash assistance program for pregnant residents to improve health outcomes

The Philly Joy Bank is modeled after similar programs in Canada and San Francisco that offer guaranteed cash income to pregnant residents.

A doctor holds a stethoscope on a pregnant person's belly.

A medical professional holds a stethoscope on a pregnant person's belly. (VadimGuzhva/Bigstock)

With more than $3 million raised in donations and investments, Philadelphia city officials said they’re getting closer to launching an experimental program to improve infant and maternal health outcomes.

The Philly Joy Bank is marked as a pilot program that will offer guaranteed cash income to women during and after pregnancy.

The goal is to help alleviate financial stressors and better support everyday needs. Program leaders hope this will ultimately reduce health disparities in a city where Black infants are nearly three times more likely than white babies to die in their first year of life.

“That is a problem that’s going to take a combination of science and community investment to change,” Philadelphia Department of Public Health Commissioner Dr. Cheryl Bettigole said Monday.

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The Philadelphia pilot program will offer residents $1,000 a month during six months of pregnancy and then for a year after childbirth, for a total of 18 months.

The program will initially focus on 250 pregnant people living in the neighborhoods of Cobbs Creek, Strawberry Mansion, and Nicetown-Tioga, which have the highest rates of very low birth weights, according to city officials.

Eligible residents include people with annual household incomes under $100,000 for a family of four.

The cash income will not be tied to any other requirements or parameters.

Dr. Stacey Kallem, director of the Philadelphia Division of Maternal, Child, and Family Health, said that’s what makes it different from other public assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.

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“You have to go to one place if you need food, you have to send out a different application for heat or utilities,” Kallem said. “The beauty of guaranteed income is it gives residents the flexibility to address their problems as they need to in the moment without all of that red tape of having to navigate different systems.”

The Philly Joy Bank is modeled in part after a similar guaranteed cash income program in Manitoba, Canada. It’s been operating for more than 20 years.

At least one study showed that the program led to fewer low birth weight births and preterm births. Children born to program participants were more likely to have completed recommended vaccinations by ages 1 and 2.

San Francisco became the first city in the United States to start a supplemental income program for high-risk pregnant people when it launched the Abundant Birth Project in 2021.

Philadelphia leaders and city health officials said they need to raise a total of $6 million to get the local program started. Donations have so far been made by the William Penn Foundation and Spring Point Partners.

City officials plan to launch the Philly Joy Bank in early 2024. Kallem said the city will issue a request for proposal to partner with an academic institution that will evaluate the pilot program once it is up and running.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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