Shaefer anticipates major poverty reduction in upcoming Flint prenatal and infant cash program

November 10, 2023

“I can’t talk about this without smiling. We are getting ready to eliminate extreme poverty for families with babies in Flint.” 

Ford School Hermann and Amalie Kohn Professor of Social Justice and Social Policy Luke Shaefer is speaking about “RxKids”, a landmark program that will launch in January, creating a benefit to every pregnant woman and families with infants in the city of Flint. There will be a one-time payment of $1,500 followed by $500 per month for 12 months.

Shaefer is working closely with the director of Rx Kids, Michigan State professor Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, whose work turned the tide on the Flint Water Crisis. She saw the need in Flint and reached out to Poverty Solutions, where Shaefer is director. 

“Country after country has adopted a child cash benefit program. They always lead to major poverty reductions. And they work best when applied to a broad population rather than having a stringent income test. Every family in Flint will be eligible for Rx Kids. We saw the same big benefits with the 2021 expanded child tax credit–huge poverty reductions. Rx Kids–the biggest program of its kind ever in the U.S.--builds on this legacy,“ he says.

Having served as a special advisor in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Shaefer and Dr. Hanna-Attisha were able to work with Shaefer’s close colleagues at the State of Michigan to envision how Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant dollars could be applied to Rx Kids. TANF is supposed to provide cash aid to help families grapple with economic hardship. Shaefer notes that poverty spikes to its highest point around the birth of a child. Women can’t work, so income goes down, and the expenses of a newborn go up. Using evidence to define child birth as an acute moment of economic hardship provided a pathway to draw down TANF funds without impacting time limits or work requirements.

Shaefer and Hanna-Attisha have now raised $41 million for the program, including $16.5 million from the State of Michigan in TANF funds and $15 million from the C.S. Mott Foundation. This takes women from the last months of pregnancy to their first birthday.

Policymakers are excited by this, of course, including Rep. Dan Kildee, who represents the Flint area in Congress, and Michigan Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist, who has been very involved. It is also getting attention from outside Michigan, from the White House and Rep. Rosa Delauro, Ranking Member of the House Appropriations Committee, among others.

They see this initiative as a way to keep the Child Tax Credit in the public imagination, which drove child poverty down to a historic low.

When it was launched, Hanna-Attisha was quoted as saying, “I’m beside myself; I’m on cloud nine, grinning ear-to-ear. It’s so emotional, to be able to do this in such a way that’s full of dignity, love and respect for our families is a dream come true.”

She and Shaefer hope to raise another round of funds to keep the program going for five years.  

The next step is the soft launch in January, and then a major event on Valentine’s Day, All We Need is Love, the RX Kids Launch Bash, in Flint, on February 14, 2024. (All are invited!)

RxKids has been written up in many publications. You can see the news items below:

RxKids—Flint, Michigan’s Cash Allowances For New Parents, Public Health On Call, September 28, 2023

Research Symposium featuring Dr. Mona to take place in downtown Flint on Friday, MLive, September 28, 2023

‘A dream come true’: In Flint, every pregnant person is about to receive cash through Rx Kids, Michigan Advance, August 1, 2023

Michigan’s new anti-poverty effort: $7,500 for Flint moms, no strings attached, Bridge Michigan, August 1, 2023

Flint program will pay monthly stipend to babies born in the city, Michigan Radio, July 31, 2023

Flint Showed Us The Dangers Of Poverty. Now It Could Show Us How To Fight It, Huff Post, May 5, 2023