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'Baby bonds' programs could impact the future of low-income newborns

The idea of a 'Baby Bonds" program is gaining traction, with Washington, D.C.'s city council and the state legislature in Connecticut passing Baby Bonds legislation last year. Similar legislation has also been introduced in state legislatures in California, Delaware, Iowa, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Wisconsin.
For Carmelitha Mack, the 'Baby Bonds' program, which the city council in Washington, D.C. created last year, could be a game changer for her 9-month-old son, Aariz.
Washington, D.C.'s ‘Child Wealth Building Act' made it one of the first jurisdictions in the country to create a 'Baby Bonds' program for low-income babies.
The idea is that once the babies, who are enrolled in the 'Baby Bonds' program, become adults, they can use that money to go to college, start a business or put a downpayment for a home – a way of trying to break the cycle of poverty.
Posted at 11:31 AM, Nov 10, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-10 13:31:49-05

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Something is sizzling at a dinner for new moms. With babies by their side, host Tamador Dibreel guides the evening.

"We give them hope because they don't know a lot of resources," she said.

Dibreel is an art therapist with Healthy Babies Project, a nonprofit which helps young mothers facing tough circumstances in Washington, D.C.

"They have low income or no income, and they have a problem of housing and they just struggle with their whole life," Dibreel said.

The Healthy Babies Project works to help these moms go back to school or find work and offers them transitional housing.

"Just to help them, to empower them, encourage them, support them,” Dibreel said, “and just make them go into the right track for their future."

However, it's their babies' futures that are about to look a whole lot brighter, thanks to a new program created in the nation's capital, spearheaded by D.C. City Councilman Kenyan McDuffie.

"I authored the District of Columbia's ‘Child Wealth Building Act,’ which we affectionately refer to as ‘The Baby Bonds Program’ here in the nation's capital,” he said. “And it's one of the first baby bonds programs of any jurisdiction in the United States."

The baby bonds are a taxpayer-funded trust fund – an interest-bearing account -- for babies born into families with low incomes.

"If you are born into a family who is making up to 300% of the federal poverty level, then you get an account created just by being born into poverty and you get up to $1,000 per year into that account for 18 years, so that when you turn 18 years old, you have an account with upwards of $20,000-25,000 in it," Councilman McDuffie said.

The idea is that once the babies become adults, they can use that money to go to college, start a business or put a downpayment for a home—a way of trying to break the cycle of poverty.

For Carmelitha Mack, the baby bonds program could be a game changer for her 9-month-old son, Aariz.

"When I went on maternity leave, I couldn't afford to live and I got evicted," Mack said. "I would like for him, like to graduate, like just have something that's his - like his own home. I think it'll be good for my son to have that to fall back on."

Dibreel also sees the potential for it to help so many newborns that come through the Healthy Babies Project.

"Oh my god! I was like, 'What a wonderful idea!'” she said.

It's an idea gaining traction with Connecticut also passing Baby Bonds legislation last year. Similar baby bonds legislation has been introduced in state legislatures in California, Delaware, Iowa, New York, New Jersey, Washington and Wisconsin.

In Washington, D.C., the $32 million program has identified more than 800 babies who are eligible, having been born since the program began in October 2021.

"It's not going to make anybody rich, but what it's going to do is give them hope. It's going to give them a fighting chance,” DC Councilman McDuffie said, "and 18 years from now, I hope we will have a generation of young people who are pursuing their dreams."

Carmeletha Mack said that is all she wants for her son.

"I'm trying to make sure I do right by him. That's all I can do right now. That's what I'm trying to do,” she said. “I'm trying to stay strong for him."