Thanks to AFGE District 14 and Local 2978, the federal government has restored funding to a program that helps reduce the District’s infant mortality rate. The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has appropriated up to $7.95 million over the next four and a half years for the Healthy Start program, which helps pregnant and parenting mothers and fathers in Wards 5, 6, 7, and 8. The restoration of funding is also good news for the 38 employees who received a notice that they could be laid off because of budget cuts. AFGE Local 2978 represents 22 of the 38 employees. These are outreach workers who canvass neighborhoods for expectant and new mothers to connect them with DC Department of Health nurses who will provide home visitation for prenatal services.
After learning of the cuts, AFGE Local 2978 reached out to the DC Department of Health (DOH) Director, Washington DC Mayor, and City Council members to appeal HHS’s initial decision not to fund DC's infant mortality program. The Healthy Start Community Consortium and AFGE Local 2978 held a rally on the steps of the City Council building to bring attention to the plight of the mothers and infants and the public sector employees who carry out these civic tasks.
Because of the need to combat infant mortality and pressure from community leaders and AFGE, the Health Resources and Services Administration, which is part of HHS, reversed its initial decision not to fund the District's grant application. AFGE National Vice President for District 14 Eric Bunn praised HHS, the mayor, and the city council members for making the right decision.
“This decision shows our strong commitment to the residents of the District of Columbia,” the NVP said. “I’m proud that AFGE is part of that commitment.”
AFGE Local 2978 President Robert Mayfield is pleased with the decision.
“This program is enormously important to the District and its most vulnerable residents – our babies,” Mayfield said. “The funding will allow our employees to carry out this important task for the greater good of our beloved city.”
Even though the new funding will not support the same level of services under the old infant mortality block grant, DOH Director Dr. Joxel Garcia said "the vast majority of the program is going to be intact," which hopefully means most of the 22 AFGE members will remain employed.