Screenshot by Kaela Roeder

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced the launch of a direct cash assistance program for new and expectant parents in wards 5,7 and 8 on Jan. 13. 

The “Strong Families, Strong Futures DC” pilot program, which is managed by the social services organization Martha’s Table, aims to address the expenses of parenthood. 

New parents, who are classified as those who are raising a child 3 months of age or younger and/or who are pregnant in their second or third trimester, will receive no-strings-attached payments of $900 per month for one year. People who are 250% below the poverty level are eligible. 

“These payments will give moms the autonomy and flexibility that they need to provide care for their kids and themselves,” Mayor Bowser said at a press conference.

But some are concerned about the development of the program and other cash assistance initiatives in the District. Melody Webb, the co-founder of the local nonprofit Mother’s Outreach Network said she’s happy this pilot is being launched but wishes the mayor’s office reached out more to the community in the development process. Also, there’s a need for more cash assistance programs for other vulnerable groups including youth who have aged out of the foster system and formerly incarcerated populations, she said. 

“We absolutely embrace what she’s doing,” Webb said in an interview. “But we would like to see her have more of an open, consultative process where she’s talking to the community, and particularly, to impacted communities across the board.” 

The D.C. Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, which supports the program, did not respond to a press inquiry on the development of the program at the time of publication. 

The wards chosen house the highest proportion of Black residents in the District and have the least amount of access to prenatal care. Raising a child costs nearly $29,000 in the nation’s capital, the most expensive place to do so, according to a report by LendingTree. Day care alone costs $24,000 annually, which is more than double the national average. 

Martha’s Table previously spearheaded a cash assistance program at the beginning of the pandemic and gave a grand total of $1.2 million to 137 families. That initiative turned into the larger assistance program THRIVE East of the River. Under that program, 500 families in Ward 8 were given no-strings-attached $5,500 payments over a period of five months.  

“We believe cash assistance is an efficient, impactful and transformational way to support family stability during times of extreme vulnerability,” said David Lloyd, the deputy chief of programs at Martha’s Table, at the press conference. “For families in wards 5, 7, and 8, this level of unconditional support is absolutely critical. Through this initiative, we expect to see significant long-term advancement in both maternal and child health outcomes in economically vulnerable areas of the District of Columbia.”

Enrollment in the program includes access to Martha’s Table benefits, such as weekly access to groceries and the opportunity to enroll your child in early education programming. About 130 people will be accepted to the program.

Recruitment for the program is expected to begin in February. For questions on how to enroll, contact Ra’Chelle Dennis, the family engagement specialist at Martha’s Table, at [email protected]