Boston is getting federal grants to tackle structural racism in public health

The funding to the Boston Public Health Commission will go toward developing equitable responses and preventions for homelessness and substance use disorders.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Rep. Ayanna Pressley. Patrick Semansky / AP, File

Boston is getting a boost in federal funding that will go toward tackling structural racism in public health, particularly as it relates to homelessness and substance use disorders

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is awarding $492,838 to the Boston Public Health Commission. The funding is part of a batch of federal grants, totaling more than $4.8 million, being allocated by HHS to 10 community organizations across the country to address policies that may either create or perpetuate health disparities and contribute to structural racism.

According to lawmakers, the “first-of-its kind” funding is informed by the “Anti-Racism in Public Health Act,” which Rep. Ayanna Pressley and Sen. Elizabeth Warren have put forward along with their colleague from California, Rep. Barbara Lee. The legislation, which the politicians first introduced in 2020 and then reintroduced last year, would require the federal government to begin developing race-conscious public health approaches through two programs within the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


“This first-of-its-kind funding will help community organizations across the country develop anti-racist health policy to confront the crisis that has threatened our communities, denied access to quality health care, and exacerbated longstanding racial disparities in health outcomes,” Pressley said in a statement. “I’m thrilled the Boston Public Health Commission is receiving this funding, which will allow them to do this life-saving work right here in the Massachusetts 7th, and I am proud to have partnered with Senator Warren and Rep. Lee to help make these investments in anti-racism a reality.”

According to a statement, the Boston Public Health Commission will use the funding to develop equitable responses and preventions for homelessness and substance use disorder. 

The commission will also put the money toward reducing the “inequitable burden of homelessness, substance use disorders and related issues on communities of color in Boston.”

“This new federal funding will provide the Boston Public Health Commission with the necessary tools to address health care disparities in Massachusetts,” Warren said in a statement. “I’m thrilled that the provisions we laid out in our Anti-Racism in Public Health Act are being used to confront inequity and discrimination in our health care system.”


Dr. Bisola Ojikutu, commissioner of public health and executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, said in a statement that structural racism is a root cause of homelessness. 

“Pervasive racism within the carceral, healthcare, housing, education and other systems have led to disparities in homelessness among people of color,” she said. “This funding will enable the Boston Public Health Commission to address the policies and practices that are contributing to inequity in housing status. In addition, this funding will support the evaluation of ongoing efforts to develop interventions for Boston residents experiencing substance use disorder, mental health issues and unsheltered status.”

Boston isn’t the only location in New England seeing the funding to address health disparities and structural racism in health services. 

The City of Hartford has been awarded $500,000 and First Candle, Inc., a nonprofit in New Canaan, Connecticut, that is focused on “ending” Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, is receiving $385,094.

According to the lawmakers, the HHS funding is being awarded under the department’s Community-Driven Approaches to Address Factors Contributing to Structural Racism in Public Health Initiative, a pilot program modeled on the proposed legislation from Pressley, Warren, and Lee. The recipients will be expected to demonstrate the impacts of the funding on outcomes and the overarching goal of advancing health equity.


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