LOS ANGELES (FinalCall.com) – The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced July 17 that it has allocated $896.7 million to states to help enable them to respond to public health emergencies. Grassroots community disaster organizations are hopeful that the funding will boost their emergency preparedness training within Black communities as well as underserved areas.

According to HHS, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) will coordinate the funding, issued annually since 2002 after the 9/11 attacks; however, individual states determine how the money will be spent.

This year’s stipend includes $175 million for pandemic influenza preparedness; $57.3 million to support the Cities Readiness Initiative (which ensures oral medications to 100 percent of affected populations during a public health emergency); $35 million for early detection, surveillance and investigative capabilities of poison control centers; $5.4 million specifically for states bordering Mexico and Canada to develop and implement a detection, investigation and reporting of urgent infectious disease cases program.


Since 2002, HHS informs that it has provided than $7 billion in funding for preparedness-related programs throughout states, territories and metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C. They receive separate subsidies because of their greatest pubic health threats.

Some preparedness groups within the Black community position that one of the first challenges they face toward readying their people is acquiring a portion of the funding to help implement crucial training programs. The next is to generate enough concern and interest to begin educating them on the issue’s importance.

Malcolm Suber, National Organizing Coordinator for Peoples Hurricane Relief Fund in New Orleans, noted that primarily, people are struggling with everyday health care issues, much less disaster health threats. He said that in New Orleans, for instance, half of the hospitals are closed, except for Charity Hospital, the doctors and nurses gone, and they refuse to open. “There is definitely no preparedness as far as, especially, medical emergency concerns, and there is very little effort on the part of cities and civil defense to organize our people in preparedness programs,” he stated.

Mr. Suber said that he would like to access some of the funds to purchase emergency preparedness kits, but understands the general barriers of bureaucracy. “Our community is the last one to find out about anything and when they tell us, the funds have already been depleted. We will take this heads up to ensure that those things paid for by our tax dollars that rightfully belong to us make it to us, however, we know that the current atmosphere, like with most programs, is that money that’s allocated for the people ends up in the pockets of the friends of Bush–disaster capitalists–who make use of the peoples’ miseries to get rich,” he stated.

Doris Brown, Public Health Executive Director for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals Office of Public Health, said that it distributes its money (more than $13 million this year) based an organization’s overall goals, objectives, strategic directions and federal mandates. Areas developed included personnel, equipment, training and exercise needs, educational information and community outreach to grassroots organizations.

That outreach amounts to door-to-door surveys of residents’ readiness plans and field deployment exercises targeting the Iberville Housing Projects and Vietnamese and Hispanic communities. Ms. Brown said the outreach existed years before Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck and is more warranted than ever.

“We see a difference from last year to this year in terms of the Black community’s preparedness. That’s part of what we’re doing door-to-door, giving family readiness and pandemic flu guides. It’s very important that there’s national oversight to ensure that common goals and directions are met. If not, some states may develop a Chevrolet model and others a Cadillac model,” she stated.

Afsar Muhammad of the Colorado Millions More Movement Rocky Mountain Disaster Preparedness Project factored that people overall are not preparing for disaster because they do not understand the importance of planning ahead of time, being ready. “It just doesn’t register to them that normal service is no longer available during disaster and they need to be able to sustain for at least two to three weeks before someone can even get to them. They don’t know the impact of a natural disaster until it happens,” he stated.

On one hand, Mr. Muhammad continued, there is fear mixed with uncertainty and on the other is a lack of funding for programs, as well as a lack of knowledge about funding grants. “We have a thing about privacy. We don’t want people in our business, but we have to overcome this code of silence in our communities; overcome the need for instant gratification, and look ahead.

Minister Tony Muhammad, Nation of Islam Western Region Minister, pressed that Black public officials assist in making constituents aware of such programs and ensure that monies are distributed fairly. Often, he said, people never know where the money is or how to apply for it.

“We always must be prepared and really, can never look for government because it has failed us too many times, however, we have to keep pressure on them because that’s our tax money. While we wait, we prepare,” Min. Muhammad stated.

He reflected on the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s early warnings to prepare for disaster with survival kits and other items, and noted that the Nation of Islam is prepared to teach disaster preparedness, more than any other organization within Black communities.

“A divine solution was given to us by the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, who we feel was taught directly by God Himself, and that is for all of us to get enough food, water and medicines to last us at least six months to a year in case of the worst of disasters. If we follow his blueprint, now as particularly given to us by the Honorable Min. Louis Farrakhan, we will be able to sidestep many disasters and save a lot of lives,” Min. Muhammad added.

(Qualified groups interested in applying for grant funding may contact their state Department of Health for consideration. For more details on the disaster preparedness funding visit www.hhs.gov.)