Black Infant Aid Program Suffers From State Cuts

Photo: Nailan Milan plays with her baby in the South Berkeley building that houses the Black Infant Health Program. The program must raise $175,000 in order to sustain its current operations.
Karen Ling/Photo
Nailan Milan plays with her baby in the South Berkeley building that houses the Black Infant Health Program. The program must raise $175,000 in order to sustain its current operations.

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Black Infant Health Program facing cuts from state

How Berkeley's Black Infant Health Program is dealing after experiencing budget cuts from the state.



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Tucked away in South Berkeley is a house that blends into the rest of the residential neighborhood, distinguished only by the sign over the front door marking it as the site of the city's Black Infant Health Program.

The program has been working to reduce the rate of low birth weight in black infants through education and support since its creation in May 2001.

Inside the building, a group of about six black women are gathered around a table for the weekly Social Support and Empowerment Group, one of the program's three support groups. The day's topic is nutrition and grocery shopping.

The scene is entirely normal and, though all seems well, the program has been suffering from retroactive state cuts made effective in July that it has only been aware of since September.

"We're at a critical junction right now," said Starla Gay, a member of the program's advisory board and a former participant. "The structure of the program is going to change out of necessity."

According to Gay, because the cuts are retroactive, all costs the program has incurred since July have not been paid for by the state. At an Oct. 13 city council meeting, members discussed the future of the program, citing total state funding losses of $182,356 for the program and the subsequent need for restructuring and reducing expenses.

However, according to Janet

Berreman, the city's acting health officer, other sources of funding need to be found to ensure that the program maintains its current structure. Steps have already been taken to find the additional funding, including applying for grants.

"Our goal is to identify the most critical services and programs and to be able to maintain them and to

continue growing," said Mary Anne

Morgan, a program manager. "I think the challenge is ... to maintain the essence ... and philosophy of the program."

Since September, the program has dealt with short-term effects, such as the loss of a janitor, a nurse and other staff members due to layoffs. But according to Vicki Alexander, chair of the program's advisory board, the long-term situation is more optimistic.

"For Berkeley, the cuts are devastating," Alexander said. "You can't run a program with the level of cuts projected. However, over the long haul, I'm confident the cuts will be restored."

According to Alexander, the program's funding is matched at the federal level, so the city must raise about $175,000-which would be matched for a total of $350,000-for the program to maintain its current structure.

In 1999, Alexander saw a need for the program when federal data revealed that black infants in Berkeley had the worst disparity of low birth weight in the nation, at four times the rate of underweight births as white infants. That rate has now shrunk to three times, Alexander said.

Today, the program serves about 400 women each year, Morgan said.

"We meet (the women) where they're at," said Ramona Benson, the program's interim coordinator. "We believe that if they have the education, it will help their growth as individuals."

Morgan praised the program as "unique" compared with other public health programs because of its ability to build strong bonds.

"I was most struck by the passion and the commitment the staff have," Morgan said. "(They) have created bridges between public health and this community ... and they trust them."

Many volunteers are graduates who come to give back, Benson said.

"This is like an extended family," said Natasha Scott, a mentor who has been with the program since 2003. "You can always come here. There's always someone ... with open arms. (The program) taught me how to get ... and give support."

Alexander is working towards bringing more focus to the cuts because, despite the recent difficulties, the goal is for the program to continue to grow.

"Being here gives me strength. It's changed my life ... (and) empowered me," Gay said. "I ... have something to be fighting for­-and that something is Black Infant Health Program."

Tags: BLACK INFANT HEALTH PROGRAM, BUDGET CUTS


Contact Denise Poon at [email protected]



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