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Former IUPUI research analyst moves equity push to state government

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After more than five years of establishing herself as one of the great local authorities on social policy and equity, Breanca Merritt followed her passion into government.
Merritt recently became the chief health equity and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) officer at the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA).

Merritt said she’s always had a passion for how government works, which is part of the reason she pursued a career in research and community engagement. Part of her job was to inform policy decisions, and now she gets to do that from the inside.

“To be on the side that actually makes a lot of decisions has always been a professional goal of mine,” Merritt said.

Merritt’s role involves understanding gaps in policy for the FSSA and where the administration can be more equitable. Some examples: Is Medicaid policy causing disparate outcomes? Are there any issues with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)?

Merritt is the first chief health equity and ADA officer for the FSSA.

“Dr. Merritt has a long history as an academic and practitioner with real-world experience working among marginalized populations to understand racial and ethnic disparities and encouraging policies that promote equity,” FSSA Secretary Jennifer Sullivan said when the administration announced Merritt’s arrival.

This is a natural extension of what Merritt, 33, did as one of the most prominent voices at the Public Policy Institute at IUPUI, where she was a senior research analyst and founding director of the Center for Research on Inclusion and Social Policy (CRISP).

Under Merritt’s leadership, CRISP produced data and analysis on issues such as poverty, Black homeownership rates, homelessness and child care.

Career decisions like this are never 100% clear, Merritt said, but she saw an opportunity at FSSA and took it.

“When you build something from scratch, it’s kind of your baby,” she said of CRISP, “and it’s hard to leave something behind that you put a lot of passion into.”

Merritt is still involved at IUPUI as a community scholar, meaning she has access to the university’s resources to continue doing research. She can also be an adjunct professor as part of the position. When that happens, Merritt teaches a class called African-Americans, Power, and Public Policy, which teaches students about systemic racism through the perspective of Black Americans’ experience with government decisions.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.

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