Richmond Memorial Health Foundation- June 2021

This work has been part of a steady walk for RMHF since 2015. Our Trustees had a retreat that year where they talked about the social determinants of health and thinking beyond healthcare.
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1. As a health funder, why is Richmond Memorial Health interested in tax credits? How does it advance your mission?

This work has been part of a steady walk for RMHF since 2015. Our Trustees had a retreat that year where they talked about the social determinants of health and thinking beyond healthcare. Then in 2016-2017, the Foundation identified 18 Equity + Health Fellows charged with the task of charting our strategies and goals as we work to advance health and racial equity in the Richmond region. The Fellows lifted up the critical importance of investing in policy and advocacy. Medicaid expansion in Virginia provided a real-time lived opportunity to make investments in policy and advocacy organizations. Commonwealth Institute was a partner as a valued and respected statewide anchor institution. We saw the success of Medicaid expansion and building the partnership with Commonwealth which encouraged us to keep going.

We also have several partnerships that supported our decision to move ahead. The EITC Funders Network briefing on making the connection between health and EITC drove the point home for our Trustees and team. It helped to make the case for the role of health funders in this work. Our partnership with the Commonwealth Institute also made it is easier to work in spaces where we didn’t have a strong track record and deep relationships, because we trusted their capacity to help us to navigate this new space. Our team has confidence in them, and they have a track record of being bi-partisan. Additionally, a collaboration with the Robins Foundation and the City of Richmond to support the Guaranteed Income Pilot effort further raised our interest in supporting EITC work. And as the federal government started to expand, the tax credit work seemed like the logical next step.

Understanding data related to the social determinants of health, lifting up our values on equity and having confidence in our partners was a recipe for success when deciding to support work related to economic stability through tax credits.

2. What things did you consider and discuss when deciding on whether to move forward with this body of work? What was persuasive to your staff, Board and supporters?

We have been thinking and discussing the intersections between health and income/wealth for quite some time. We began having conversations internally as a team and with our board in 2016. It has been a steady lift since then.

One of our board members and our current Board Chair, Reggie Gordon, had been championing this for many years. In fact, he is a key reason that Richmond has an Office of Community Wealth Building.  When Reggie became our Board Chair, we sat down to map out what priorities might be in 2021, and we landed on three:

  • Continuing our work to advance housing justice and promote housing stability
  • learning more as a collective body about early childhood and connections with health equity
  • Amplifying the data and our work related to the intersection between health and wealth

In the context of the pandemic, our Trustees developed a sense of urgency around our realization that vulnerability related to wages and wealth (particularly with black and brown people) put millions of families at risk. Since we had been talking about this for a few years, making a decision to invest now was not difficult.

We also have great partners who we trust, which made moving forward easier for us. It was very important to have our partners at Robins Foundation and the City of Richmond involved, because we operated under the notion that “we are in this together.” Tyonka Perkins Rimawi at the Robins Foundation and Valaryee Mitchell at the Office of Community Wealth Building have led this work with integrity and courage. Potential alignment with key health safety net partners and health anchor institutions also provided incentive and motivation for RMHF to deepen our investment.

I should add that we have the advantage of being a small foundation. Small can be effective, because we don’t have the bureaucracy of large shops. We have a Board that understands our deep connections and place-based strategies.  They are bold and willing to try new strategies, provided that the connection to health and racial equity are strong.  In an organization like RMHF, we can make a decision, mobilize and move quickly.  I also give credit to our health safety net organizations for their adaptive capacity and willingness to explore new ways of being responsive to the communities they work in and serve. They are working really hard and compassionately in communities every single day. We have worked with them to offer support that goes beyond just grants.  When you have a team that is mission-driven with trusted partners, you think of other ways to do the work such as collaborating, sharing knowledge and providing connections to other resources.

Ultimately, this is the story of policy work more generally in foundations. It almost always is a steady climb to get there.  In our case, our Trustees are brave and we have amazing partners.  This helped position RMHF to be ready to accelerate when the time came.

3. What specific work have you or will you be funding in the tax credits space, and to what degree is it connected to other RMHF grantees/focus areas?

We are funding tax credits work. This builds on collaborative work in the region to fund financial opportunity centers with teams who provide support for financial counseling and help with rental and utility assistance. Specifically, we are expanding our existing relationship with Commonwealth Institute to include additional funding related to EITC. This is our first grant towards EITC and is meant to support their efforts to work on a state refundable EITC and to build the base of community-based organizations that are working on EITC policy.

We are also really pleased about how our entry into this work has built upon and deepened our connection to other health funders who are supporting work in our region. For example, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been a really important partner in our region through Invest Health and Connect Capital, and Giridhar Mallya has been a strong advocate for EITC. In addition, thanks to support from the CDC Foundation and in partnership with the Community Foundation, we are supporting partners who are serving Latino and Hispanic families by providing rental and utility assistance.  For these partners, they are paying rent and also providing financial counseling and coaching with community members.

We are working with other partners on the implementation of the American Rescue Plan Act. We are beginning a body of work to support and build the capacity of Black- and Brown-led grassroots and community-based organizations to make the case and advocate for public and private investments to support equity in our community.

Finally, working with the Virginia Funders Network and a group of health legacy foundation leaders in Virginia, we hope to lift up the importance of tax work and raise awareness among philanthropic partners in the health and corporate space.

4. What advice would you have for health funders (or others) who are thinking about investing in this work?

My first piece of advice is, “Be not afraid.” This is really important work that can make a huge difference in the health and lives of millions of children and families. Funders are often afraid of risk and may go through years of conversations and process in order to begin investing in new grant-making priorities. But, time is not always on our side. Sometimes we need to take risks in order to pursue innovative ways to live our missions and our goals. Start wherever it makes sense for your organization to start, but start!

Next, I would advise my colleagues to tap into the existing network of people who are doing the work. There are so many resources (like the EITC Funders Network) and a whole ecosystem of folks working on this issue (including State Priorities Partnership). You certainly do not have to “go at it alone” when thinking about how to integrate this into your work. A great role for funders is convening and catalyzing. Think about how you can contribute to this work and ways to do it in partnership with others.

Additionally, I would also like to share something we all know to be true. The connection between income and health is undeniable. Getting more money into people’s pockets can have a huge impact on health outcomes. Our work has been driven and deeply informed by existing data on the social determinants of health. Rely on what is already there to ground your conversations around entering this space.

Finally, we need more health funders getting into policy. If you are a health funder that is earlier in the process, begin to have strategic conversations with your board. Ask strategic questions such as, “Do you want to continue to fund health-specific programming and interventions, or do you want to think about systems change?” Figure out how the issue of EITC and tax credits fits into your larger strategic vision and grant-making strategy. There are many intersections where you can find connections to your work.

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