MNsure’s board of directors voted to add up to $750,000 in additional outreach grants at Wednesday’s meeting. The move came in response to an uproar from groups — primarily in the African-American community — that complained they were slighted in the first round of $4 million in grants to 30 organizations.
MNsure executive director April Todd-Malmlov said that the additional grant money was culled from savings in other areas of the health insurance exchange’s operations. There will not be another round of grant applications; the additional money will be awarded to the existing pool of applicants. There were 109 grant applicants seeking a total of $18 million.
“I do think there were many more good applications than what we will be able to fund,” Todd-Malmlov said.
Minnesota Department of Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson, who sits on the MNsure board, indicated that the additional grant dollars would allow the state to fill in “gaps” from the first funding cycle. “It’s a great opportunity for us,” Jesson said. “I’m delighted that we can very quickly have a second round of grants.”
As reported last week by PIM, African American legislators and nonprofit leaders expressed anger that some organizations with deep ties to African-American communities were denied grants. In particular, they raised concerns about the exclusion of the Minneapolis Urban League and the Stairstep Foundation.
Todd-Malmlov also raised the possibility of tapping into $7 million in additional outreach money for more grants. That money is slated to reward organizations that sign people up for insurance products through MNsure. For every non-Medicaid enrollee that organizations sign up, they will receive a $70 payment from the state. Todd-Malmlov cautioned, however, that it’s uncertain how far that pool of money will stretch once enrollment begins on Oct. 1.
“We’d like to get some experience first to see how it is going,” she said.
Phil Norrgard, the director of human services for the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa and a member of the MNsure board, also expressed concern that there was a lack of representation from groups that work closely with people who have mental illnesses. But he also cautioned that the nature of a competitive grant process is that some groups will be turned away.
“It’s impossible to please everybody when you have a limited resource and an unlimited number of applicants,” Norrgard said. “Let’s do what we can now and get on with where we are going.”
Other board members expressed concern about voting to add additional grant dollars when they didn’t have a complete understanding of how the initial process went awry. Tom Forsythe, vice president for global communications at General Mills, offered reservations about simply throwing more money at the problem.
“We either had the right budget and we allocated it poorly, … or should have been putting in more because we had so many places that needed to have grantees,” Forsythe said.
But despite the concerns raised, there were no dissenters on the voice vote to appropriate the additional grant dollars.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, who has been among the most vocal critics of the outreach grant process, expressed satisfaction at the action taken by the board to expand the pool of recipients. “I think this is a first step at trying to rectify what appeared to be a misstep,” Hayden said. “They recognized that they made a misstep and they’re working hard to correct it.”