In January, Gov. Katie Hobbs threatened to line-item veto programs to support homeless pregnant women – and she got her wish last month, signing a $17.8 billion budget that had no room for programs that have served the most vulnerable Arizonans for years.
These groups did not refer women for abortions – hence the funding cut. But eschewing these successful contractors is a mistake, because they meet a range of needs in a way that state housing programs may not be able to. Homelessness is usually a complex problem without any one magic solution.
Groups serving vulnerable women report that often they are homeless because of other crises. They may have survived trafficking, have a substance abuse disorder or are fleeing domestic abuse, and could have an unexpected pregnancy. Housing is often a critical part of the answer but not the complete answer.
For pregnant homeless women, their needs are even more significant – extra nutrition, access to prenatal care, and often help getting to doctor’s appointments.
As Democrats, we believe state benefit programs are crucial in fighting poverty, but vulnerable populations like homeless pregnant women need something beyond state assistance. They need a network providing holistic care and support. It’s why newly established programs like the Family Health Pilot Program and the Homeless Pregnant Women Services program have been so successful. The grantees are doing life-saving work and can best serve pregnant and parenting families.
The new budget commendably funds health care and includes $150 million for a Housing Trust Fund Deposit – housing assistance for families at risk of or experiencing homelessness. However, Governor Hobbs removed $500,000 for Homeless Pregnant Women Services and $3 million for the Family Health Pilot Program.
These figures represent less than 1% of the $17.8 billion budget. Yet their absence affects vulnerable populations — at a time when Arizona is experiencing an alarming increase in homelessness and maternal mortality rates. The U.S. has the highest mortality rate of any developed country at more than 32 deaths per 100,000 live births.
The key to successfully aiding pregnant women is exemplified by Maggie’s Place, a Homeless Pregnant Women Services program grantee. It doesn’t just offer shelter. Many of the women it serves have survived abuse or human trafficking or struggle with addictions. They need special care that housing alone won’t provide.
Maggie’s Place supports these women throughout their pregnancy and their children’s first year. This includes shelter, food, and tangible resources and connecting them to health care and psycho-social support. They offer case management and peer support, as well as parenting, nutrition and self-care classes, and financial literacy and workforce development.
Holistic care like this builds a foundation of true empowerment for women, who can emerge as strong, independent mothers.
Under the Family Health Pilot Program, grantees directly connect pregnant women and families with children under age 2 to needed health and wellness services they didn’t know were available. The goal is to establish and maintain a healthy pregnancy and have a healthy birth and healthy baby. Families receive health education, parenting support, and socio-economic guidance, including connection to education and career readiness programs. With the support from the Family Health Pilot Program, these women and families feel prepared to parent holistically and develop economic stability.
Grantees utilize a network of nurses, social workers, caregivers and other community supports to help participants establish a plan for a healthy, stable pregnancy, prepare them to become confident parents, and guide them towards a successful future.
As Democrats, we can and should prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable. We should be funding those organizations that provide a panoply of services to women in crisis. When discussing pregnancy support, it is easy to let abortion cloud our judgment. The women needing help have chosen to parent and need special care. We can’t leave them out on the streets just to gain political points.
Kristen Day is executive director of Democrats For Life. Wade Thompson is board member and Arizona chair of Democrats For Life.