The Greater Twin Cities United Way will award $50 million to more than 100 charities for safety net programs in the next three years, with a particular focus on "culturally specific organizations."

About 20 percent of the money will go to smaller nonprofits run by people of color and for people of color, said United Way Senior Vice President Meghan Barp. While United Way has funded such nonprofits in the past, they have become a stronger focus as Minnesota grapples with major racial disparities in education, health and income.

Grants are headed to Twin Cities nonprofits such as Ujamaa Place, Centro Tyrone Guzman, WellShare International and the Indian Health Board of Minneapolis. They join other larger nonprofits that serve a cross-section of Twin Cities residents.

"This is a critical component of United Way's strategy to address the region's persistent racial inequities in education and employment," Barp said.

The numbers tell the story. The poverty rate is 38 percent for black Minnesotans, 32 percent for American Indians, 23 percent for Hispanics and 12 percent for Asians. That compares to 8 percent for non-Hispanic whites, according to the state demographer's office.

The "Strengthening the Safety Net" awards represent a relatively new grant-making strategy, Barp said. In the past, United Way viewed community needs through categories such as housing and health care. But it found that people who needed one kind of support often needed help with the others.

A more comprehensive approach was needed. The safety net now targets six key areas: health, food, housing, family violence, legal services and independent living services for seniors and people with disabilities.

Ujamaa Place offers education and skills training to young black men.

"Young African-American men often become part of the 'lost generation' who either die at a young age or are incarcerated for most of their lives," said Otis Zanders, president and CEO of the St. Paul nonprofit. "Receiving this funding will allow us to reverse this trend by reaching even more young African-American men and helping them access stable housing, learn new skills and secure a job."

Grants will also go to the International Institute of Minnesota to help new Americans connect to health insurance, health care and to a Wise Elders Program run by the Centro Tyrone Guzman.

Funding also went to Better Futures Minnesota, which provides housing, employment and community re-engagement to men who were formerly incarcerated.

The charities will receive grants over three years, starting July 1. Last year, the United Way announced similar three-year grants for education. Next year, it will do the same for nonprofits working to improve job options for the unemployed.

Barp said nonprofits will have to meet specific outcomes in order to receive funding.

"We know that poverty is incredibly complex," said Barp, "and sometimes it seems hard to create meaningful change."