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Congress Provides Funds To Fight Infant Mortality

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Washington--The Congress, as part of a supplemental appropriations bill for the current fiscal year, late last month allocated $25 million to combat infant mortality, an initiative first proposed by President Bush and Health and Human Services Secretary Louis W. Sullivan.

In doing so, however, the Congress prohibited the Bush Administration from transferring funds to the initiative from community health centers or the maternal- and child-health program, as the Administration had proposed, according to a conference report on the bill.

The report, while not specifying where the $25 million is to come from, noted that "a number of community health centers have not received their full 1991 award because funds have been reserved pending resolution of the department's proposed reallocation of funds for the infant-mortality initiative."

Noting that 40,000 babies die before their first birthdays in the United States, Dr. Sullivan announced plans in February to launch a campaign to improve prenatal and childhood health-care services.

Under the Administration's initiative, pilot programs are to be established in 10 cities that have high infant-mortality rates and that show a willingness to contribute additional funds.

In the current fiscal year, Dr. Sullivan proposed that $57 million be transferred to the pilot programs from elsewhere in the department's budget. For the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, he proposed that $171 million, including $66 million in transferred funds, be allocated.

Assistant Secretary James O. Mason said last week through a spokesman that, while the department is grateful for the Congressional appropriation, "We still would have liked to have used $57 million [in the current year], and we'll seek full funding of $171 million" in the next fiscal year.

The hhs spokesman said the department expects to publish criteria this month for cities that wish to ap8ply for the competitive grants.

In addition to reducing infant mortality, hhs officials say the program will attempt to improve access to and the quality of prenatal care, to reduce the number of babies born at low birthweight, to reduce birth defects, to reduce substance abuse among mothers, and to decrease the incidence of teenage pregnancy.

Critics of the plan in the Congress, including a number of vocal Republicans, argued that the Administration's initiative would cripple the health-care programs that would lose funding, pit poor urban areas against each other in competition for the limited funds available, and take money away from rural areas.

Senator Christopher S. Bond, Republican of Missouri, said transferring funds from community health centers and from the maternal- and child-health program would debilitate health services for the nation's poorest citizens.

"Every child deserves a healthy start in life," he said. "But some children should not benefit at the expense of others."

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