RIDOH, EOHHS launch participatory spending pilot program

PROVIDENCE – Residents in two health equity zones now have the opportunity to help decide how to spend nearly half a million dollars in public funding on improving community health.

The process, known as participatory budgeting, is being launched as a pilot program by the R.I. Executive Office of Health and Human Services and the R.I. Department of Health.

Both the Central Providence Opportunities Health Equity Zone and the Pawtucket Central Falls Health Equity Zone will receive $450,000 in Health System Transformation funds from Rhode Island’s Medicaid program.

A private grant of $550,000 to the Central Providence HEZ brings its participatory budgeting total to $1 million.

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Allocation of public funds to the health equity zones began this month, and will continue through June 30, 2024. During that time, residents in each community will have the opportunity to meet and vote on ways to spend the money to improve racial inequities and social determinants of health.

The resulting winning projects will be publicly announced and implemented.

“Health disparities result from underlying factors in our physical, social, political and economic environments,” said Dr. Utpala Bandy, RIDOH interim director of health. “It’s exciting to see a project like this take root in Rhode Island. Not only do I look forward to seeing the innovative projects and solutions that come out of this work to promote health equity, but also how resident participation in the process itself enhances community cohesion, health and well-being. Healthy communities are connected and collaborative communities.”

The pilot program is intended to include people who will be directly affected by spending decisions, said Ana Novais, EOHHS acting secretary.

“What makes participatory budgeting different from traditional budgeting and decision-making processes is that it creates intentional space at the table for those who experience systemic racism and income inequality,” Novais said. “It gives community members true decision-making power over real money.”

Elizabeth Graham is a PBN contributing writer.