South Carolina’s health agency this week landed a new $4.6 million grant made possible by the Affordable Care Act.
The federal Department of Health and Human Services awarded the grant to the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) on Tuesday. It’s meant to reduce the number of deaths due to tobacco use, heart disease, and strokes.
The Community Transformation Grants are supposed to “reduce health disparities and improve the health and well-being of Americans by creating healthier states and communities (through) the implementation of proven community-based programs.”
“It’s going to allow us to get in the front lines, get out on the local level,” DHEC spokesman Adam Myrick said, “So eventually we can begin to see chronic disease rates go down. We can begin to see evidence of healthier lifestyles.”
In South Carolina, the money will be split between the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative, Eat Smart Move More SC, and the Outpatient Quality Improvement Network at MUSC.
Louis Eubank is Executive Director of the South Carolina Tobacco Collaborative. He said his organization will receive $1 million under the grant. “It is larger than our traditional annual operating budget,” he said, “So it obviously more than doubles our capacity.”
He said that will allow the Collaborative to pursue smoke-free campaigns in smaller, more rural communities than they have before. The group advocates for smoking bans in cities across the state. Eubanks emphasized they are not allowed to lobby, however, and only speak to public officials if they are invited. “We understand and respect the taxpayer dollar,” he said.
It’s not just tobacco, though. Myrick said the idea is to encourage healthier eating and living. “We know that, if we can make an investment on the front end to educate people,” Myrick said, “Down the road, that burden of disease will be reduced.”
When the grants were first proposed in 2009, a few Republicans opposed them because some of the grant money would go towards building playgrounds, farmers markets, and sidewalks. It was not immediately clear if any of those projects were included in South Carolina.
The grants can be renewed every year (at the full $4.6 million) for the next four years, as long as the state meets the federal government’s benchmarks.
South Carolina Republicans are caught in an awkward situation over the grants, since the funding comes from a program they want repealed, derisively calling it “Obamacare.” Governor Nikki Haley has opposed accepting grant money from the law to set up insurance exchanges in the state.
But DHEC is not a Cabinet agency under Haley’s control, although she does choose its board members. Myrick said he did not know if the grant application required the board’s approval.
Overall, more than $103 million in Community Transformation Grants were announced nationwide Tuesday.