Direct cash payments can help babies’ brain development

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Photo: Thanasis Zovoilis (Getty Images)

Last summer, the United States began sending checks as part of a monthly program child tax credit program that offered up to $300 per child to most households across the country. The payments have changed lives amid the pandemic, especially for single mothers struggling to make ends meet. But the program recently expired after Congress did not reauthorize the tax credit until Dec. 31 last year.

Now a new to study published on Monday should cause the members of Congress who canceled the child tax credit to seriously question their decision: according to the results of an experiment called Baby’s First Years, direct cash payments to low-income families can have significant impact on babies’ brain development. Throughout 2019, using electroencephalography or EEG scans, the researchers behind the study collected data on brain wave activity in infants in households receiving cash payments. cash $20 per month and infants in households receiving $333 per month. By comparing and analyzing the data, they found that babies in households receiving $333 payments had faster or high-frequency brain activity than babies in households receiving $20.

For those like me who haven’t studied neuroscience, greater high-frequency brain activity in infants and toddlers has been correlated with better language ability, memories, and overall cognitive development as the child grows. The Baby’s First Years study is one of the first to assess how direct cash payments can affect babies, and its results are not only promising but also timely, as the United States increasingly experiments with direct payments in cash, in the form of last year’s stimulus checks and the now-expired child tax credit program, amid the pandemic.

The study didn’t come to any conclusions about why babies in households that received $333 monthly payments had higher brain activity, but Harvard psychology professor Katie McLaughlin ventured a reasonable guess. : “My first intuition is that you are reducing parental activity. stress and give parents more bandwidth, time, and emotional and cognitive energy to devote to their children,” McLaughlin Recount Voice. Another one to study Romanian children from almost two decades ago confirms McLaughlin’s theory – she found that children raised in high-quality foster families had higher brain activity than their counterparts raised in government institutions, which which suggests that greater support from caregivers or parental figures may play a role. central role in the cognitive development of babies and infants.

That said, we can’t ignore that the United States is one of the only wealthy countries in the world that doesn’t require employers to give new parents paid time off. The first months of a newborn’s life are a critical period for a child’s development and ability to form relationships and attachments that could affect the rest of his or her life. A to study of last summer, newborns whose mothers received three months of paid parental leave experienced more advanced neurological development during those three months, compared to newborns of mothers who received a unpaid leave during the same period.

People who have to hold several jobs or who have difficulty making ends meet, and who are particularly more likely being people of color, often do not have the opportunity to focus on caring for their newborns during this critical time. They generally lack not only paid family leave, but also health insurance and maternal care coverage. the shameful inaccessibility of daycare services in the United States is its own Pandora’s box. Direct cash payments do not replace any of these programs, but they are clearly useful.

Parenting a newborn or toddler is not easy anywhere in the world, but for all alarmist about America’s allegedly declining birth rates, the United States is an especially terrible place to raise families, especially for poor women of color, and black and brown women in particular. Those who have children because they have not had access to abortion and have been forced to have unwanted pregnancies are often pushed even deeper into povertymaking parenthood all the more difficult.

Despite what science reveals about how harmful U.S. policy is to newborns, children, and working families as a whole, proposed policy change is routinely defeated in Congress, mostly by so-called “pro” lawmakers. -life “. A Republican congressman, who is especially alive today because someone gave birth to him, literally request Congress on why male taxpayers should have to pay for prenatal and postnatal health care during a 2017 Affordable Care Act debate. In Mississippi, the same state whose 15-week abortion ban is at the heart of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Supreme Court case, all recent efforts to extend Medicaid coverage to new parents from 60 days postpartum to one year have been defeated in the legislature.

Talking about the hypocrisy of politicians who campaign to be pro-family values ​​and love children so much that they will force us all to bring them into the world is a bit like beating a dead horse at this point, especially considering that there is no childcare or social assistance. safety net is an adequate substitute for the legal right to abortion. But it still seems important to emphasize that paid family leave, child care and direct cash payments for working families are vital and essential programs. No one who opposes them should be allowed to call themselves pro-lifers without being laughed out of a piece.

The Baby’s First Year study is an important reminder that across all fierce and dehumanizing debates on whether working parents “deserve” direct cash payments, it is also their children who will benefit or suffer in the long run and change their lives, depending on whether or not we restore the Child Tax Credit.


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