MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — MNsure — Minnesota’s new health insurance program — is under fire Tuesday from the state’s African-American leaders.

They say MNsure is ignoring groups who have been working for years to sign up the uninsured.

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In a small, north Minneapolis office, the Stairstep Foundation trains lifestyle coaches to work in 140 churches. It’s a small part of what Stairstep’s been doing for years.

The group applied for a MNsure grant to help African Americans sign up for health insurance. So did the Urban League.

But both groups — as well as others — were denied.

“No African-American community-based organization received any resources,” said Alfred Babington-Johnson, the president and CEO of the Stairstep Foundation.

He says the freeze-out of African American groups is even more frustrating because African-Americans make up 17.9 percent of Minnesota’s uninsured.

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“Instead of us being fully engaged in outreach, we’re fighting to get a seat at the table,” Babington-Johnson said.

State Sen. Jeff Hayden (D-south Minneapolis) represents a large part of Minneapolis with uninsured residents, and he sits on a committee with oversight of MNsure.

He’s pressing MNsure to find out if anyone of color helps decide who gets grants.

“How many of those people are African or African-American?” he asked MNsure.

The answer he got was: none.

MNsure has already spent $9 million making TV commercials featuring Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox – ads meant to target Minnesotans as a whole.

But Babington-Johnson is hoping more effort is made for people he’s trying to reach.

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“Everybody needs to hear about MNsure, but what’s going to make MNsure successful is if the uninsured enter the pool,” he said.