WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Bob Menendez and Cory Booker (both-D-N.J.) cosponsored the reintroduction of the Kira Johnson Act, legislation to provide funding to community-based organizations leading the charge to improve maternal health outcomes, especially for Black women.
The legislation creates a 5-year, $50 million grant program at the Department of Health and Human Services to improve outcomes and reduce bias, racism, and discrimination in maternal care settings.
This bill is included in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2023, historic legislation authored by Sens. Menendez and Booker to save the lives of pregnant women and mothers and address every driver of maternal mortality, morbidity, and disparities in the United States.
The bill follows an alarming study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, which found maternal mortality doubled between 1999 and 2019, with most deaths among Black women.
“New Jersey’s maternal mortality and morbidity rates are alarming – a reality that’s further exacerbated amongst Black and Brown pregnant women who experience higher rates of complications during pregnancy, labor, and postpartum,” Menendez said. “As members of Congress, we have a responsibility to address this crisis, and with this reintroduction of the Kira Johnson Act, I reaffirm my commitment to work alongside my colleagues to ensure a significant reduction in bias, racism, and discrimination in maternal care settings to improve outcomes and ensure pregnant women and mothers live long healthy lives.”
“The alarming rise in maternal mortality rates, specifically among Black women, is a national crisis, which is why I’ve been working for years to address this problem, including with my Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act,” Booker said. “We must invest in community-based organizations and implement comprehensive training programs to combat bias and systemic racism that persist within our health care system. That is why I am joining my colleagues in introducing this legislation that will take these crucial steps to improve maternal health outcomes and ensure that pregnant people have access to the safe birthing experience they deserve.”
“The Kira Johnson Act legislation is of paramount importance in our pursuit of justice and equity within our healthcare system,” said Charles Johnson, husband of the late Kira Johnson. “This legislation serves as a critical step towards rectifying the systemic failures that have long plagued our healthcare system, particularly when it comes to maternal care. No family should ever have to endure the tragic loss we experienced, nor should any woman face unnecessary risks and complications during what should be one of the most joyous moments of her life. We are grateful to Senator Warnock for fighting to ensure that every mother receives the safe dignified birthing experience they deserve.”
The legislation is co-sponsored by Tina Smith (D-Minn.) and is endorsed by 184 organizations.
The Kira Johnson Act will:
- Provide funding to community-based organizations to improve maternal health outcomes for Black pregnant and postpartum people and Women of Color, as well as birthing people from other underserved communities.
- Provide funding for grant programs to implement and study consistent bias, racism, and discrimination trainings for all employees in maternity care settings.
- Provide funding to establish Respectful Maternity Care Compliance Programs within hospitals to provide mechanisms for pregnant and postpartum patients to report instances of disrespect or evidence of racial, ethnic, or other types of bias and promote accountability.
In May, Sen. Menendez joined Sen. Booker, U.S. Representatives Lauren Underwood (D-Ill.-14) and Alma Adams (D-N.C.-12) to reintroduce the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act which makes critical investments to address social determinants of health, provide funding for community-based organizations, grow and diversify the perinatal health workforce, expand access to maternal mental health care, address the effects of climate change on maternal and infant health, and improve data collection processes.
Later that month, Sen. Menendez and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) reintroduced The Tech to Save Moms Act to support the use of technology to help close the gap in maternal health care and address the racial and ethnic disparities in maternal mortality outcomes. The bipartisan legislation invests in and promotes the integration and development of telehealth and other digital tools that can help reduce maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity.
In January, Sens. Menendez and Booker introduced a resolution recognizing January 23 as Maternal Health Awareness Day. In 2018, New Jersey became the first state to recognize January 23 as Maternal Health Awareness Day through the work of the Tara Hansen Foundation, Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, and other vital organizations that work to help spread awareness and stop maternal mortality. Since that time, state, advocacy and community-based organizations, and others have used January 23 as a day to raise awareness about maternal health, educate health care providers about maternal mortality, and encourage birthing people, families and providers to recognize and discuss potential signs of an emergency.