Editorial: Don’t cut Healthy Start funding

Published March 2 2018
Updated March 5 2018

Healthy Start is a proven program that supports thousands of at-risk pregnant women and their babies every year. But to lawmakers looking to find savings in the state budget, itís a target. Reducing funding for Healthy Start would do immeasurable harm to a population that needs maximum support. Lawmakers should look elsewhere to save money.

If anything, Healthy Start funding should increase. Last year, the program provided services such as home visits, childbirth education, parenting resources and substance abuse education for 80,000 pregnant women and 56,000 infants. One advocate called it "the glue" holding together the web of social services for expectant mothers. Since the program started in 1991, the state has seen a 35 percent decrease in infant mortality. But Senate negotiators appear determined to cut it, at one point calling for a $19 million cut, nearly a third of the programís budget. They claimed they wanted to eliminate "duplication" with other programs. But Healthy Start is of particular value to women in rural areas where community services are limited and there are unlikely to be redundancies. Cutting Healthy Start funding would be a heartless move that harms mothers, babies, and eventually, whole communities.

There is a connection between childhood poverty and juvenile crime. The Tampa Bay Timesí recent "Hot Wheels" series about the juvenile car theft epidemic in Pinellas County is a perfect, sobering example. Police were called to the home of one young car thief when he was less than 7 weeks old because his parents were fighting. His father went to prison for drugs when he was 4 months old. He was a toddler when child abuse investigators noticed scratches on his face and hemorrhaging in his eye. He was arrested for the first time at age 11 and caught crashing a stolen car at 14.

Florida cannot afford to abandon children who are born with so much going against them. Healthy Start is one proven way to improve their odds, by keeping their mothers healthy during pregnancy, teaching them how to become good parents and connecting them with critical services that give these families a fighting chance. Lawmakers should be increasing the investment in this program, not cutting it.