Group hoping to reduce racial disparities could be made official

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About four years ago, leadership of the Department of Human Services discovered some racial and ethnic disparities among certain services.

For example, the large number of American Indians and African-Americans who utilize child welfare services does not properly reflect their overall population in the state, according to Antonia Wilcoxon, the department’s community relations director.

“The concern there is why is it that certain populations seem to graduate successfully from some of our programs … and why some populations seem to need to return back,” she told the House Government Operations Committee Tuesday.

After forming a committee to help reduce those disparities four years ago, the department is looking to codify the committee in law.

Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) sponsors HF310 that would create and outline the duties of a 15-25 member Cultural and Ethnic Leadership Communities Council. The council would work with the commissioner of human services on ways to reduce disparities and give those impacted by the system an opportunity to be part of the decisions, Moran said.

The committee approved and referred the bill to the House Health and Human Services Finance Committee. The companion, SF246, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Mpls), awaits action by the Senate State and Local Government Committee.

With a number of councils of color in the state, Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa) questioned whether this one is needed.

“I’m wondering why we’re creating yet another layer of government to do even more,” he said. “This seems very duplicative.”

Wilcoxon explained that the council would have a limited scope concerning human services compared to the other councils with a much broader scope.

Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Mpls) added that some racial problems, including the disagreement between African-Americans and Somali-Americans at Southwest High School in Minneapolis, needs a special kind of attention and would be conflictive if assigned to other councils.