Holly Mitchell, for the first time in recent memory, was speechless.
Assembly member Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), who is known for being voluble and quick-tongued, yesterday had a bill before the Assembly Committee on Human Services.
AB 1640 is designed to allow low-income pregnant women to use TANF money (federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) without proving that they’re in their third trimester of pregnancy.
“This bill allows first-time mothers, basically, to become eligible for benefits during their pregnancy,” Mitchell said. “Current law delays eligibility for pregnant women until their third trimester.” That means women need to get an ultrasound scan to prove their gestational timetable, Mitchell said, and that could be a hardship for many low-income women. It is also important, she said, to make sure that pregnant mothers get the nutrition and support necessary to ensure a normal, healthy baby.
“Low-income women are more likely to have low-birthweight babies, and the medical costs of a preterm baby are higher. It costs 10 times more than a term baby,” Mitchell said. Making sure low-income mothers-to-be have coordinated care and nutritional services would likely save the state money in future health costs, she said.
Assembly member Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) had a hard time with giving money that, she said, might reinforce the idea that it was fine to have a baby out of wedlock.
“Since 1970, the number of women having babies out of wedlock has soared,” Grove said, adding that the rising statistic crossed all racial lines. “There’s no incentive to succeed and get out of that situation, it’s basically saying the government will take care of you, that they have the world at their fingertips.”
Mitchell said the issue isn’t the marital status of women, but helping pregnant woman have healthy babies.
“The issue I’m dealing with is the reality of about $400 and change,” Mitchell said. “I don’t know any woman, black woman or white woman, who finds that grant amount high enough to think they would intentionally have a child so they could have the world at their fingertips. It’s not a value statement, the point of this bill is that women who are eligible should be entitled to a cash grant early enough to improve that birth outcome.”
If the state helps a woman in the third trimester, it could make a difference in that baby’s life as well as the mother’s, said Cathy Senderling-McDonald, deputy executive director of the County Welfare Directors Association of California.
“If we could count that baby today, that’s the change,” Senderling-McDonald said. “With a more stable grant, they could get food, and a roof over their heads, and a healthier start to their lives.”
It was the phrase, “if we could count that baby today,” that prompted a second point from Assembly member Grove.
“If we are counting that baby today [before it’s born], if it is eligible for benefits,” Grove said, “then it would be considered murder to abort that baby.”
That’s when Mitchell had nothing to say. The silence lasted many seconds.
“I’m not sure how to answer that,” Mitchell finally said. “Perhaps the chair would like to respond to that concern.”
No one else had a comment, though there was a motion to approve and a second.
The chair asked Mitchell, who is a single mother, for any final argument. “As an unwed mother on the state dole [as an Assembly member],” she said, “I ask for your support.”
passed committee on a 5-1 vote.