Minnesota ahead of the pack in some prenatal, early childhood policies

By: - October 19, 2023 6:00 am
Baby gets medicine

The Affordable Care Act has helped millions of patients like one, 2-month-old Karina, receiving Tylenol after a vaccination. Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

Minnesota policies support expectant parents and young children more than other states, but there is still room for improvement, according to a team of Vanderbilt researchers. 

The Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center at Vanderbilt University evaluates how public policy measures impact child and family welfare. Reams of evidence show the earliest years are the most important in a child’s development, while early trauma or hunger can lead to costly social, health and economic problems well into adulthood.

In the group’s 2023 Policy Roadmap, which evaluates each state’s efforts to improve prenatal and early childhood health, Minnesota was among the top 10 states in the following metrics: the portion of women receiving prenatal care; the portion of children receiving developmental screenings; and the portion  of children with at least one parent working full-time and not in poverty.

Minnesota also has better-than-average rates of infant deaths, breastfeeding and access to early childhood services.  

The Prenatal-to-3 Policy Impact Center recommends certain policies that improve the health of young children, such as expanding Medicaid eligibility, guaranteeing paid family leave and enacting a state minimum wage of at least $10 per hour. 

Minnesota’s minimum wage is $10.59 per hour for large employers and $8.63 per hour for everyone else. The minimum wages will increase by 26 and 23 cents, respectively, beginning in 2024. And it’s significantly higher in the Twin Cities. 

In the most recent legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers passed a paid family and medical leave bill, allowing up to 20 weeks of paid leave to new parents starting in 2026.

The center also advocates for a refundable earned income tax credit — a tax break for low- and moderate-income families. Minnesota’s version is called the working family tax credit. Lawmakers also this year approved a refundable child tax credit of $1,750 per child. (A “refundable” tax credit means the credit will first be applied to the taxes a family owes, but if there’s money left over, it’ll be sent directly to the taxpayer.) 

It’s not all good news: Minnesota is below average in immunization rates for children under 3, childhood food insecurity and the portion of parents reporting “not coping very well.”

The report does not cover child care availability — though the group does advocate for child care subsidies — but one factor in parents’ well-being could be the high cost and scarcity of child care.

Some states have taken steps to reduce the administrative burden associated with the biggest government nutrition program, known as SNAP. Other states have extended the period between renewals and providing case management. These measures raise participation rates for eligible families, according to the researchers. 

Minnesota has implemented those measures for some, but not all families, according to the report. For example, families experiencing homelessness may have to renew their SNAP certification more frequently than other families.

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Madison McVan
Madison McVan

Madison McVan is a Report for America corps member who covers economic mobility for Minnesota Reformer. She previously covered agriculture for Investigate Midwest after graduating from the University of Missouri in 2020 with degrees in Journalism and Latin American studies.