A pilot program created in 2019 to improve development and reduce racial disparities among young children would become permanent and receive $50 million in funding under a bill that received initial approval Tuesday.
The bill, which was approved as amended, on a split-voice vote by the House Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee, would appropriate $50 million in the 2024-25 biennium for the department to administer the grants. It now moves to the House Health Finance and Policy Committee.
Bahner said Minnesotans are proud to lead the nation in child well-being, but the state is in the bottom third in outcomes for children of color and there are vast racial disparities.
“That is simply unacceptable,” she said, adding that the grants attempt to leverage community assets to address problems and bring those most impacted into the decision-making process.
The pilot program worked to deliver efficient and culturally relevant services to communities of color and Indigenous communities. The grants were initially funded from 2020-23 and went to approximately 20 organizations around the state that were either led by or worked directly with those communities.
They are intended to improve development outcomes related to the well-being of children of color and American Indian children from prenatal to age 8 and their families. The 12-member Community Solutions Advisory Council helps the Health Department administer the program by reviewing applications and offering recommendations
But Rep. Brian Daniels (R-Faribault) believes the program lacks accountability and said lawmakers need to be more cautious with tax dollars.
“This may be a great program, but I’m a little surprised at the cost,” Daniels said.
Bahner replied that the programs receiving grants are community based and there is no doubt they deliver the services they promise.
She said the pilot program has shown great promise and it is now time to scale up the work and make the grants more widely available.
“We wanted to prove the concept, that is was solid, the connections were in place, the monitoring and the metrics were in place, that all of those pieces were there, and they are ready,” Bahner said. “They’re ready.”