Extending postpartum Medicaid, creating a foster care bill of rights and building a new website to help moms and families find resources are all among the policy priorities backed by the Senate Study Group on Women, Children and Families, Sen. Nicole Boyd, R-Oxford, told Mississippi Today.
Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann tasked the group with reviewing the needs of Mississippi families and children from birth to age 3, following the Supreme Court ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization that allowed the state’s near-total abortion ban to take effect.
The ban will result in an estimated 5,000 additional births each year, a 14% increase in the state with the country’s highest rates of infant mortality and preterm births; a foster care system in which children are often abused and neglected; and the most restrictive Medicaid policies for new moms in the country.
The Senate study group held hearings in September and October, focused on maternal health; adoption and foster care; childcare availability and early intervention for kids with special needs. They heard from state and national policy experts, obstetricians and pediatricians, and leaders of Mississippi state agencies.
“As we sit here today, we’re not ready,” committee member Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula, told WLBT as the hearings concluded. “But I think that we can be there.”
Boyd told Mississippi Today that the committee is making recommendations in the following areas.
- Extending postpartum Medicaid from 60 days to 12 months postpartum. The Senate passed this measure last session, but House Speaker Philip Gunn, R-Clinton, did not let it come to a vote in his chamber.
- Creating a website that will consolidate information for mothers about family planning, postpartum care, child care and more.
- Enacting a foster care bill of rights to address “the many concerns that foster parents have that we’ve heard from during this process.”
- Creating a study group to focus on foster care and the adoption system.
- Streamlining the foster care process by increasing judges’ discretion around regulatory requirements like the home study.
- Creating a study group to help overhaul the early intervention program, which aims to offer services for children with developmental delays as early as possible. The state Department of Health-run program currently serves about 1,100 children, but could be reaching as many as 10,000. Boyd said that investment would not only help kids succeed in school but also bring a significant return on investment for the state. “The more intervention services that you do, the dramatically less service and help those children need later in life.”
- Restructuring the tax credit for employers that provide childcare for their employees. Boyd pointed out that the labor force participation rate among single mothers is 75%, compared to 55% for the state as a whole.
With the exception of technical changes that state agencies could make on their own, policy changes will take place through legislation that will flow through committees like Medicaid and Public Health and Welfare and then go to the House.
Gunn has recently reaffirmed his opposition to extending postpartum Medicaid. His “Commission on Life,” the House’s analog to the Senate study group, has held no public meetings and Gunn’s staff will not say who the committee has met with. Several members told Mississippi Today they have heard from pastors and doctors, but declined to share their names.
They have not announced any concrete policy proposals, though Gunn has said he wants to expand the tax credit for the state’s roughly 40 crisis pregnancy centers – which do not offer health care services and vary significantly in offerings and scale – from $3.5 million to $10 million. Extending postpartum Medicaid would cost the state about $7 million and provide greater access to health care for roughly 20,000 women every year.
Boyd emphasized that the Senate group is not a one-session committee and expects members will continue to gather information and develop recommendations in the years to come.
Beyond the hearings, Boyd said, the group members have held about 50 meetings with researchers, advocacy groups, industry representatives and state agency staff.
The hearings were open to the public and live-streamed, and people were invited to share comments and feedback with the committee via email at WCFStudyGroup@senate.ms.gov.
“It’s when we get that public participation that we can write the most effective legislation,” Boyd said.