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Post From Healthy Communities Initiative Blog Series

Federal Reserve Tackles Ties Between Poverty and Health

Written by Daniel Lau, Manager of Strategic Engagement on August 3, 2016

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This short series features the place-based partnerships happening through the Healthy Communities Initiative.

For most people, health is not what immediately comes to mind when they hear about the Federal Reserve—unless it’s the “health” of the American economy.

Yet for several years the nation’s bank has funneled resources into projects that bridge health and community development. The Healthy Communities Initiative, a partnership between the regional Fed banks and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, encourages collaboration across the two sectors. Launched in 2010, the ongoing initiative has given rise to 30 conferences across the Fed system, in both urban and rural communities, with more meetings planned for the future.

We’ll be covering the work coming out of these conferences in a regular blog series at the Build Healthy Places Network.

Health, those at the Fed would say, should be the purview of all who work in the financial sector. The United States spends far more on health care than any other country, and gets much less. As some have argued, this lopsided spending can be a drag on the country’s gross domestic product. If the system were more productive, correspondingly lower health insurance premiums could put more cash in people’s pockets. Lower costs could also redirect more business resources into innovation and profitability.

In addition, there are strong ties between economic well-being and physical and mental health. People who live in poverty, for example, are more likely than those who do not to have health problems, including chronic illnesses, asthma in children, and mental illness. In turn, poor health affects one’s ability to become financially self-sufficient and contribute to the economy.

The Healthy Communities Initiative links up practitioners in related fields who share a goal of increasing opportunities for achieving better health and economic mobility.

“People who care about health and people who care about poverty are often working side by side in the same neighborhood but often don’t know each other,” said Ian Galloway of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, which has been at the forefront of the cross-sector work.

Connecting at conferences and through partnerships on the ground, the community development and antipoverty sectors can make a greater impact in the areas they serve.

The project also helps health funders and practitioners see the potential in partnering with community development programs. The initiative encourages partners to explore the most effective ways of leveraging hospitals’ mandated community benefits dollars, which are required by law to serve local neighborhoods; and banks’ local investment requirements under the Community Reinvestment Act. The health and financial sectors each have new incentives to support their communities, and in many cases can have the biggest bang for their buck by pooling resources and working together.

The Build Healthy Places Network works to catalyze and support collaboration across the health and community development sectors. Through our work we aim to lift up collaborative efforts at this intersection that are improving low-income communities and the lives of people living in those communities. The Federal Reserve has been a key player in this movement since its inception, and we want others to know. We’re pleased to highlight the work emerging from this initiative through this ongoing blog series. The partnerships in neighborhoods across the country demonstrate what can happen when diverse practitioners pool their ideas and resources in the name of community health.

Up next: How Renown Health, a nonprofit health system in Reno, Nevada teamed up with leaders in the community development sector to tackle the barriers to health in one of the region’s highest-needs ZIP codes.

As Howard Koh, professor of public health at Harvard University and former assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, said:Health is too important to be left to the health sector alone.”


Photo/Town of Bancroft

Daniel Lau, MPH is a nonprofit professional working to support communities become more healthy, successful and resilient. Before coming to the Network, Daniel was the Programs Director at Mission Asset Fund. At MAF, he managed the expansion and implementation of Lending Circles, a group savings and credit-building program. Building partnerships all across the country, Daniel contributed to a movement of safe and responsible access to financial capital for hardworking families, opening doors for economic advancement and self-sufficiency. Before MAF, he conducted research on the National School Lunch Program and advocated for federal anti-hunger and anti-poverty initiatives in Washington, DC. Daniel graduated from the University of California, San Diego with a degree in Human Biology and completed his Masters in Public Health from Boston University. He is an alum of the Bill Emerson National Hunger Fellowship.