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The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has announced a new funding opportunity for community health centers across the country.

According to an agency press release:

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) today announced the availability of approximately $700 million to help build, expand and improve community health centers across the U.S. to provide needed care to low-income Americans. The funds, authorized by the Affordable Care Act, will support renovation and construction projects, boosting centers’ ability to care for additional patients and creating jobs in those communities. Community health centers are an integral source of local employment and economic growth in many underserved and low-income communities. In 2010, they employed more than 131,000 staff and new funds made available today will help create thousands of jobs nationwide.

This announcement has two funding opportunities for community health centers. One will provide approximately $600 million to existing health centers across the country for longer-term projects to expand their facilities, hire more employees and serve more patients. The second funding opportunity emphasizes shorter-term projects and will provide approximately $100 million to existing health centers to address immediate facility needs.

“For many Americans, community health centers are the major source of care that ranges from prevention to treatment. These funds will expand our ability to provide high-quality care to millions of people while supporting good paying jobs in communities across the country,” said HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

In Florida, state legislators have rejected funds from the federal government for community health centers in the past. In particular, the Legislature struck down $8.3 million for the expansion of community health centers in Osceola County.

However, community health centers that do not require the budget authority of the Legislature have been able to take part in the federal government’s effort to improve funding for community health.

Community health centers are neighborhood clinics that provide medical services to populations that otherwise have little access to care. The centers are a mixture of public entities and private nonprofits. Almost 400 centers in the state of Florida receive taxpayer dollars.

According to a report from the Center for American Progress, “community health centers are a crucial source of health care for a diverse group of patients, providing preventive services, treatment, and care management for medically under-served communities.” These centers fill in access and care disparity gaps among “a diverse array of low-income workers and their families, most of them ethnic or racial minorities, as well as individuals with disabilities, immigrants, and part of the gay and transgender community—all under-served communities prone to receiving disparate health care services.”

Most importantly, the need for these centers, American Progress reports, is growing:

The patient load in community health centers around the nation is on the rise. The number of people without access to affordable health care—56 million, or one-fifth of Americans, according to the National Association of Community Health Centers—is growing because of rising health care costs for individuals and families and due to persistent unemployment at near-double-digit percentages, which eliminates employer-based health insurance for those workers who lose their jobs and for their families, too.

Florida currently has the second highest rate of people without insurance in the country.

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