Manuela Lopez holds a flower-patterned protest sign during a rally to urge… (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles…)
Orange County officials are considering slashing funding to a Santa Ana nonprofit that has become a community model for its public health outreach efforts in the county's poorest neighborhoods.
The head of Latino Health Access said she believes questions over the group's funding have their roots in a dispute two years ago when county supervisors questioned why the nonprofit had to use the word "Latino" in its name and referred to its outreach workers as "promotores."
On Tuesday, supporters of the Santa Ana-based nonprofit made an impassioned plea to supervisors to work with the county's healthcare agency to leave funding intact when the group's grant comes up for review later this year. The issue has yet to come before the supervisors.
Funding could decrease from about $500,000 to $100,000, which would severely limit the abilities of the promotora program, in which outreach workers go into the county's poorest neighborhoods and connect residents with services, supporters said. Though many of those neighborhoods are predominantly Latino, the group works with all ethnic groups.
Under the county proposal, the remaining $400,000 would be split among four agencies, including Western Youth Services and the Child Abuse Prevention Center.
America Bracho, executive director of Latino Health Access and a former physician in Venezuela, said she was told the move was an effort to consolidate programs.
Bracho, who was accompanied by more than 100 supporters Tuesday, called the proposed change a "vague and unusual" way of budgeting the money. She asked supervisors to work with the Orange County Health Care agency to change the decision.
"Here, the county is taking money from a program that works ... and giving it to agencies that didn't ask for the money," she said.
Bracho said she was told in November that the grant would not be renewed and informed of the new allocation in February.
"They are not protecting what works," she said.
In June 2011, when supervisors were considering the nonprofit's two-year contract, they questioned the use of "Latino" in its name and wondered why the organization uses Spanish in reference to its promotora program.
"Does it have to be called promotora program, and why?" Supervisor John Moorlach said at the time.
Supervisor Shawn Nelson asked why the nonprofit was named Latino Health Access if services were available to all.
"I think it's extraordinary that we would even allow that to happen," he said at the time.
Bracho said the controversy over the names might have "played a part" in the funding decrease.
"That was the beginning of this nightmare," she said.
Moorlach said the questioning of the use of the word promotores was an "innocent inquiry."
The supervisor said he hasn't yet discussed the nonprofit's contract with staff but said the issue will be before the board in coming months. He called the protests an "overreaction."
"Dr. Bracho is kind of using a cannon to shout her message out," he said. "Maybe a little bit of backroom diplomacy would be a better strategy."
Supervisor Janet Nguyen asked county staff to look into the reasoning behind the proposed change. In particular, she asked if it is a general practice to cut funding from an organization that is meeting contractual obligations.
"They're going beyond," she said.
During the first year of the contract with the county, the organization was obligated to provide outreach services to 8,130 people countywide but instead reached out to 26,435, according to Latino Health Access. The contract is set to expire June 30.
Gina Torres started working with Latino Health Access 11 years ago as a promotora — a community healthcare advocate trained by Latino Health Access. The 48-year-old single mother said the value of such programs is immeasurable in communities such as Santa Ana, a densely packed city of nearly 350,000 where options are limited for low-income households.
Torres said she has held exercise programs in apartment complex courtyards and has knocked on doors to inform people of available programs.
"We go where no social worker goes," she said.