Are "Cuts in Welfare" Risking Lives of Poor Infants?

Reporter Erik Eckholm suggested a lack of welfare spending has doomed black babies in Mississippi in his Sunday lead story "In Turnabout, Infant Deaths Climb In South - Racial Disparity Persists - Poverty, Obesity and Lack of Prenatal Care Cited."



"For decades, Mississippi and neighboring states with large black populations and expanses of enduring poverty made steady progress in reducing infant death. But, in what health experts call an ominous portent, progress has stalled and in recent years the death rate has risen in Mississippi and several other states."


The headline is actually less slanted than Eckholm's story, which blamed "cuts in welfare" for the crisis. Eckholm fingered his culprit by the second paragraph.


"The setbacks have raised questions about the impact of cuts in welfare and Medicaid and of poor access to doctors, and, many doctors say, the growing epidemics of obesity, diabetes and hypertension among potential mothers, some of whom tip the scales here at 300 to 400 pounds.


"I don't think the rise is a fluke, and it's a disturbing trend, not only in Mississippi but throughout the Southeast," said Dr. Christina Glick, a neonatologist in Jackson, Miss., and past president of the National Perinatal Association.


To the shock of Mississippi officials, who in 2004 had seen the infant mortality rate - defined as deaths by the age of 1 year per thousand live births - fall to 9.7, the rate jumped sharply in 2005, to 11.4. The national average in 2003, the last year for which data have been compiled, was 6.9. Smaller rises also occurred in 2005 in Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee. Louisiana and South Carolina saw rises in 2004 and have not yet reported on 2005.


"Whether the rises continue or not, federal officials say, rates have stagnated in the Deep South at levels well above the national average."


[...]


"Poverty has climbed in Mississippi in recent years, and things are tougher in other ways for poor women, with cuts in cash welfare and changes in the medical safety net."


The Times doesn't provide specifics on the poverty rate. And notice how it mentioned "cash welfare"- distribution of cash - which doesn't necessarily translate into cuts in actual services received by poor mothers-to-be. Why didn't Eckholm break out the total amount being spent on welfare programs in Mississippi, instead of focusing on cash distribution? Neither does the Times break out the statistics of black mothers by income level, instead inviting readers to assume that the increasing black morality rate is solely a result of poverty, even though (as the story very briefly noted) blacks of all income groups suffer higher infant mortality rates than whites.


It's the GOP's fault, naturally, for not raising taxes. "In 2004, Gov. Haley Barbour came to office promising not to raise taxes and to cut Medicaid. Face-to-face meetings were required for annual re-enrollment in Medicaid and CHIP, the children's health insurance program; locations and hours for enrollment changed, and documentation requirements became more stringent."


Eckholm provided no label for a critic from the liberal Children's Defense Fund: "Oleta Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children's Defense Fund, said: 'When you see drops in the welfare rolls, when you see drops in Medicaid and children's insurance, you see a recipe for disaster. Somebody's not eating, somebody's not going to the doctor and unborn children suffer.'


Personal responsibility took a back seat in Eckholm's story, with this nugget buried deep inside: "Visits with pregnant women and mothers in several Delta towns suggest that many poverty-related factors - including public policies, personal behaviors and health conditions - may contribute to infant deaths."


Last August, Eckholm went to Philadelphia to mark the 10th anniversary of welfare reform and found, as the headline stated, found "many left behind."