By Daniel Trotta
(Reuters) – New York Governor Kathy Hochul on Thursday proposed offering pregnant women 40 hours of paid leave to attend prenatal medical appointments, which she said would make New York the first state in the U.S. to offer such benefits.
The proposal was part of a six-point plan to improve maternal and neonatal health at a time when U.S. maternal mortality rates are growing with each generation and the country has fallen way behind other developed nations.
“Mothers and babies are dying unnecessarily across the nation and right here in New York. This can only be called a crisis,” said Hochul, a mother of two who called the issue personal.
New York already offers four months of paid leave, which Hochul called the most expansive among the 50 states, but under current law those benefits are unavailable until four weeks before birth.
Hochul said additional time would prove invaluable to mothers who feel sick early in their pregnancy or for low-income women who have difficulty making medical appointments throughout pregnancy.
The six-point plan also included expanded benefits to help mothers hire doulas; directing health officials to determine how to reduce unnecessary cesarean births; offering better mental health services for mothers; eliminating co-pays and out-of-pocket expenses; and offering cribs to all newborns.
The proposal will be introduced to the state legislature where Hochul’s Democrats hold strong majorities in both houses. No estimated cost has yet been published.
Hochul cited a recent report by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed infant mortality rates in the U.S. rose 3% from 2021 to 2022, the first annual increase in 20 years.
Maternal mortality rates are even more striking, rising to 32.9 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2021, up from 23.8 in 2020, according to the CDC, with the rate for Black women 69.9, or 2.6 times that for white women.
Western European rates are typically in the single digits, according to World Health Organization data.
“No woman in this country should fear getting pregnant because it might end up being her death,” Hochul said.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Michael Perry)