Despite the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, Boulder’s Health Equity Fund in 2020 continued to provide support to city nonprofit organizations that promote equity.
The Health Equity Fund is paid for by the city’s sugar sweetened beverage distribution tax, a two-cents-per-ounce excise tax on the distribution of beverages with added sugar and other sweeteners. The tax was approved by Boulder voters and took effect in July 2017.
In the past year, the fund itself was impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the 2020 annual report, monthly revenues were down across 2020. This could be linked to restaurant closures, a decrease in tourism, virtual classes at the University of Colorado Boulder, fewer commuters or a combination of all the above, Housing and Human Services Department Manager Elizabeth Crowe said.
Still, she argued it’s likely the fund put Boulder in a better position to face the pandemic, though its impact is impossible to know or quantify with certainty.
“We can’t know for certain what kind of impact might have quantifiably been prevented from all of the investments we’ve made through the Health Equity Fund previously,” she said.
But it’s beneficial that many organizations had incorporated healthy eating, wellness and increased health services before the pandemic began, Crowe said.
Though the pandemic has widened the health disparity gap, Boulder’s Health Equity Fund investments are resulting in more community members getting and staying healthy, Housing and Human Services Director Kurt Firnhaber said in the 2020 annual report.
“The way in which so many of our partners were able to pivot to incorporate new strategies was just really quite remarkable,” Crowe agreed.
Since its inception in 2017, the Health Equity Fund has awarded almost $14 million to programs that provide healthy food, nutrition education, physical fitness, direct health care services and wellness education, according to a city news release.
This is important in its goal of promoting health equity and addressing disparities in access, the city argues.
With a $201,630 grant from the Health Equity Fund, Boulder’s El Centro Amistad stood up a program that sends health promoters into Latino communities across the city. In addition to education, the organization began a wellness challenge that provides coaching, weekly meetings and free exercise classes and encourages participants to set a variety of personal goals.
El Centro Amistad was pivotal in advocating for the sugary drink tax. The idea was to create a source of tax revenue that could help close the gaps in access to health care and wellness, Executive Director Jorge DiSantiago said.
“The gap in our community, in terms of access to wellness, healthy food and being healthier is huge for Latino families in Boulder … or families who are low income,” he said.
Boulder Parks and Recreation also received $75,000 in funding from the Health Equity Fund that allows the department to run its Recquity program, which subsidizes access to various recreational facilities for low income families.
An additional $100,000 grant supported Rec on Wheelz, a program where a branded mini van brings equipment and recreational professionals to manufactured home communities and Boulder Housing Partners’ locations.
Bryan Beary, community building and partnerships manager with Boulder Parks and Recreation, said the funding is an “incredible opportunity” for the department and called the fund “absolutely visionary.”
“It’s one of those interesting times that you’re able to do programming that really gets to the core issue of the health disparities,” he said.