02.08.21

U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin, Jeff Merkley and Representative Gwen Moore Introduce Legislation to Diversify the Perinatal Workforce and Improve Access to Maternity Care

The Perinatal Workforce Act is Part of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 that Addresses the U.S. Maternal Health Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), a member of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR), along with U.S. Representative Gwen Moore (D-WI) today introduced legislation to improve access to maternity care and grow and diversify the perinatal health workforce. The Perinatal Workforce Act establishes grant programs to increase the number of maternity care providers and non-clinical perinatal health workers who offer culturally congruent support to women throughout their pregnancies, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period. The legislation is included in the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021 to address the United States’ urgent maternal health crisis.

 “Maternal and infant mortality rates are tragically high in Wisconsin, and they are even higher in the Black community. We need to do more to make sure women and families have access to quality, affordable health care,” said Senator Baldwin. “We know that healthier pregnancies lead to healthier babies. That’s why I’m working with my colleagues to provide more resources to expecting moms and address the challenges in our maternal health system so mothers and pregnant women can get the care they need.”

“Black women already were forced to bear the brunt of our maternal mortality crisis and now the existing inequities revealed during this pandemic only burden Black mothers even more. The Momnibus couldn’t be introduced at a more pivotal time. As part of our work to invest in the health of Black mothers, we must diversify the perinatal health care workforce to better reflect the communities they serve. Black mothers need professionals who can serve as a source of support through the birthing experience, who are culturally competent to serve our most vulnerable mothers. I am proudly joining my sisters in the Black Maternal Health Caucus along with Wisconsin’s incredible champion, Senator Tammy Baldwin, to raise the urgency of this issue. We will continue fighting in the trenches for maternal justice!” said Congresswoman Moore.

“It is disturbing that Black, American Indian, and Alaska Native women are two to four times more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes than white women—a glaring sign that the inequities in our health care system are costing lives and hitting communities of color the hardest,” said Senator Merkley. “We must do everything we can—including supporting more diversity and representation within our nursing workforce—to fix this, and to ensure that every person in America receives high-quality maternity care.”

“People of color, and birthing people of color in particular, are facing multiple public health crises at once-- from COVID-19 to the existing inequities in our maternal health care system where mothers of color are disproportionately put at risk by systemic bias and racism in health care and persistent barriers to accessing quality maternal care,” said Sen Booker. “I am grateful to Senator Baldwin for introducing the Perinatal Workforce Act to work to expand birthing people of color’s access to diverse maternity care providers who are able to offer quality, culturally congruent care, and I am proud that this bill is a part of the Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act.”

In the last 25 years, while pregnancy-related mortality ratios fell 44 percent around the world, the American maternal mortality rate increased: moms are now more likely to die from pregnancy-related causes in the United States than in any other high-income country in the world. The situation is even worse for Black women, who are three to four times more likely to die from giving birth than their white counterparts. While the causes of the crisis are complex, one driving force is a lack of access to maternity care, and to culturally congruent maternity care and support specifically. More than one-third of U.S. counties are “maternity care deserts,” with no hospitals offering obstetric care and zero obstetric providers. Maternity care access is limited in both rural and urban communities: more than one million American women live in maternity care deserts located in large metropolitan areas or urban settings.

The Perinatal Workforce Act will:

  • Require the Secretary of Health and Human Services to (1) provide guidance to states on the promotion of racially, ethnically, and professionally diverse maternity care teams and (2) to study how culturally congruent maternity care promotes better outcomes for moms, especially in communities of color.
  • Provide funding to establish and scale programs that will grow and diversify the maternal health workforce, increasing the number of nurses, physician assistants, and other perinatal health workers who moms can trust throughout their pregnancies, labor and delivery, and the postpartum period.
  • Study the barriers that prevent women – particularly from underserved communities – from entering maternity care professions and receiving equitable compensation.

In Wisconsin, the Perinatal Workforce Act is supported by the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, UW-Health System, United Way of Dane County, Wisconsin Alliance for Women's Health, Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin, Planned Parenthood Wisconsin, Birthing Project USA of Southeast Wisconsin, Kids Forward, SSM Health, The Foundation for Black Women’s Wellness, and Black Leaders Organizing for Communities (BLOC), Wisconsin Doulas of Color Collective Inc, Birthing Intuition and Wellness Services LLC, March of Dimes Wisconsin, United Way of Greater Milwaukee & Waukesha County, and the Black Child Development Institute-Milwaukee. Over 160 national organizations have also endorsed this legislation.

The Black Maternal Health Momnibus Act of 2021, led by Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Representatives Lauren Underwood (IL-14) and Alma Adams (NC-12), will build on existing maternal health legislation by filling gaps through twelve bills to comprehensively address every dimension of the Black maternal health crisis. The Black Maternal Health Momnibus makes investments in social determinants of health, community-based organizations, the growth and diversification of the perinatal workforce, data collection and quality measure improvements, digital tools like telehealth, and innovative payment models. In addition to direct efforts to improve Black maternal health outcomes, the Momnibus focuses on high-risk populations, including women veterans, incarcerated women, and Native Americans.

Statements of support and endorsements of the Perinatal Workforce Act are available here.