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SEIU Healthcare Minnesota is calling on MNsure to reconsider which groups receive outreach grants so that African American organizations are included in the mix.

SEIU urges MNsure to reconsider outreach grants

Alfred Babington-Johnson, president of the Stairstep Foundation (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

Alfred Babington-Johnson, president of the Stairstep Foundation (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota is calling on MNsure to reconsider which groups receive outreach grants so that African-American organizations can be included in the mix.

In a letter to the state-run health insurance exchange’s board of directors, the labor union expressed grave concern that no organizations rooted in the state’s African-American community were among the 30 recipients of $4 million in outreach grants announced in August. In particular, SEIU points out that Minnesota has some of the worst health disparities in the country for African Americans and other minority groups.

“To eliminate these disparities, the first and least complicated step is to enroll members of this population in MNsure,” reads the letter, signed by SEIU Healthcare Minnesota president Jamie Gulley. “That is why we are so concerned that no outreach grant was awarded to a community organization rooted in the African-American community. Both academic research into effective outreach strategies and common sense suggest that people in ‘hard to reach’ communities are best reached by other people who share their existing relationships and networks.”

As reported by PIM last week, organizations that applied for outreach grants, but were rejected — most notably the Minneapolis Urban League and the Stairstep Foundation — have voiced concern that no groups with deep ties to the African American community were selected. Those criticisms have been amplified by Minneapolis Sens. Jeff Hayden and Bobby Joe Champion, the only two African Americans serving in the Senate.

The grant decisions were made by MNsure’s staff. But those decisions are likely to receive significant scrutiny in the coming days. On Tuesday afternoon, the MNsure Legislative Oversight Committee is scheduled to hold its second meeting. Hayden, who serves on that committee, has indicated that he plans to question the lack of grants to African-American groups at that gathering.

In addition, MNsure’s board of directors holds its next meeting on Wednesday. Thompson Aderinkomi, the lone African American trustee on the seven-member board, has also expressed interest in discussing the lack of representation from black groups.

SEIU Healthcare Minnesota has roughly 16,000 members, including pharmacists, nursing assistants and housekeepers. The union was actively involved in lobbying for the establishment of a state-run health insurance exchange during the 2013 legislative session.

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