States aren't spending millions in federal funding earmarked for health disparities

Despite the pandemic revealing the deep roots of health disparities in the U.S., many state and county health agencies haven't used their federal funding to fight the issue, citing bureaucratic delays and issues setting up programs, Kaiser Health News reported May 16.

After the Biden administration pledged in March 2021 to release $2.25 billion in funding to tackle health disparities, the CDC distributed grants to every state and 58 city health agencies. These grants were designed to be spent by 2023, although awardees can apply for extensions. 

Many states though have not touched the money. Missouri has spent none of its s $35.6 million grant, and Wisconsin, Illinois, and Idaho have used less than 5 percent of theirs. States reason that it takes a long time to enact programs and hire the right people as well as work through the bureaucracy of the budget process. Others cited lack of interest from the public and local leadership in the pandemic as a reason holding back spending. 

"The pandemic shone a light on these big health disparities, but they also shone a light on the fact that [public health systems] don't have the structures in place to partner directly with communities," said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, PhD, MD, department chair at University of California-San Francisco.

Some are taking the slow uptake of funds as a reason for Congress not to approve any additional COVID-19 funding.

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