Last week, lawmakers approved a supplemental budget bill to allocate $215 million for improving Michigan roads. However, hidden in this bill is a clause that cuts funding for maternal-fetal medicine research — or perinatology — in half. As a state with a particularly high infant mortality rate, Michigan should rework this budgetary decision so that road conditions will still be improved but not at the expense of prenatal care.
The legislature was praised by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder for “working together” in order to pass this bill. Yet concealed in the bill’s political jargon, questionably earmarked road improvement funds and $7.2 million for improvements to National Guard armories, is an absurd reduction in funding for the National Institute of Health’s Perinatology Research Branch at Detroit’s Hutzel Hospital. This research branch is the NIH’s only institution for improving the health of mothers and their babies.
The funding reduction will deplete its previous subsidy from $7 million to less than $3.5 million. Since the federal government contributes two dollars for every one dollar that Michigan spends, this cut will result in a total loss of about $10.5 million. The branch has orchestrated groundbreaking research to improve the health of unborn infants — in 2010 they discovered a gel that drastically reduces premature births. Therefore, cutting the funding for this perinatology research will undoubtedly endanger the health of Michigan infants, as well as the robustness of this irreplaceable research branch. This year, road conditions appear to have taken greater precedence than our troubling infant mortality rate.
About seven out of every 1,000 infants born in Michigan die before their first birthday, a number higher than the steadily declining national average of about six. Contrary to common belief, this isn’t an issue particular to Detroit. Small rural counties also reported rates higher than the state average in 2009-2011. The lack of awareness and concern demonstrated by the Michigan legislature is disconcerting. This is a problem that should and must be at the forefront of Michigan’s political agenda.
Equally disturbing as the grave misallocation of state funding is the prevalence of secret agendas in the Michigan legislature. The legislature, in which Republicans currently hold a majority, shouldn’t have the ability to surreptitiously push controversial changes within otherwise bipartisan legislation. Both parties need to communicate and work together in order to write proposals that will help all citizens in the state — research that aids the prenatal health of mothers and infants must be prioritized.